After the coronavirus shut down the local economy in March, the Freeport Chamber of Commerce worked around the clock to promote local businesses and connect them with resources that could help them stay afloat until the reopening began this summer.
As busy as the chamber was assisting its members, the spring shutdown also forced the organization to cancel its annual Installation Dinner, which celebrates not only the chamber, but also Freeporters dedicated to improving their community.
Though the Chamber of Commerce cannot hold its usually large-scale affair, its leaders decided to hold a smaller ceremony at the Freeport Yacht Club on Thursday, after the Herald Leader went to press, to reinstall officers and board members and to honor Robert Bennett as Business Person of the Year and John Hrvatin as the Community Service Award recipient.
“It’s great to be able to hold this event, even if it’ll be on a smaller scale,” Chamber President Jenny Jorge said. “This is a celebration of Freeport’s resilient business community.”
Bennett, president of the Freeport-based Rabco Engineering P.C., which provides engineering and construction management services, has worked in the village for 33 years.
Founded in 1987, Rabco Engineering began working on small residential jobs until it grew to managing larger, multi-million-dollar projects, including airports, rail facilities, breweries, hospitals and universities.
Bennett also took on home-raising and flood-control projects in Freeport and Island Park to protect homes after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Bennett, himself, bought his home in Freeport just days before the storm.
“Sandy was devastating to the village,” he said, “so I’m glad we were able to elevate some of those houses.”
Jorge described Bennett as a successful businessman who cares about his community and has been an active member and supporter of the Chamber of Commerce for years. “He’s someone dedicated to Freeport who gives back when he can,” she said.
Hrvatin, director of the Freeport Housing Authority, was selected as the Community Service Award recipient for his work in developing the new Moxey Rigby public housing complex in the village, which houses 101 apartment units that residents finished moving into in January.
Hrvatin said he has worked on the project for seven years with the help of the local, state and federal governments.
The old Moxey Rigby building, just east of the new one at Buffalo Avenue and Merrick Road, was a 70-year-old, redbrick building that lacked modern amenities. The building also suffered flooding during Superstorm Sandy.
“It really was substandard property,” Hrvatin said.
Rather than repair and upgrade the dilapidated building, Hrvatin and the FHA Board of Commissioners decided to build the new, $40 million complex, which includes elevators, central air-conditioning, a laundry room, 100 parking spots, a playground and a basketball court, and it meets Federal Emergency Management Agency standards for flood control.
“It was a tremendous undertaking, but I know this is going to be a model for the community on what affordable housing can be,” Hrvatin said
“John has done a great service for the community,” Jorge said. “He’s the one that got the [Freeport] Housing Authority up and running and created this asset for the village.”
Jorge added that she was hopeful local businesses would continue their steady recovery following the pandemic, after businesses saw a large revenue decline because of the closures and Covid-19 regulations.
At the dinner, Jorge, vice president of operations at Gala Foods Supermarkets, was to be reinstalled as chamber president, along with First Vice President Ben Jackson, of Ben’s General Contracting Corp.; Second Vice President Kendrick Dookram, of State Farm Insurance; Third Vice President Gregory Ingino, of Woodward Children’s Center; Treasurer Thomas Dipolito, of Trius Electric; and Jacques Butler, of Verizon Communications.