Residents share revitalization project ideas

Locals call for community center in Baldwin

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More than a hundred people turned out for the second meeting of the Baldwin Downtown Revitalization Initiative at Baldwin High School on Nov. 20, when state representatives and consultants heard ideas from the public about potential development projects. “Anybody that’s got a good idea should bring it forward, no matter how tenuous they may think it is. We want to hear all ideas,” said Dave Kappel, of the Regional Economic Development Council, who co-chairs the Local Planning Committee for the initiative with Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, who helped secure a $10 million grant from the state to revitalize downtown Baldwin.
The deadline for the public call for projects, Kappel added, is Dec. 13. The format of last week’s meeting was different from the first, which took place Nov. 7. Residents were invited to browse the “Idea Station Gallery Walk,” or six stations set up around the high school cafeteria that focused on different elements of the process, such as beautification efforts and the revitalization boundary area. “I’m a Baldwin girl. I want to see this project succeed,” Gillen said before community members circled the room and conversed with facilitators, adding that she would still support the initiative as a private citizen, because she lost the election for town supervisor. “I’m proud of winning this $10 million grant to really see Baldwin revitalization finally happen after decades of it not happening.” Meeting attendees wrote their suggestions and ideas on Post-it Notes and index cards and taped them to poster boards at each station. “One of the things you’ll hear from a lot of people, especially the children, is that there has been a desire for a community center or a recreational center in Baldwin for a really long time,” said Kimberly Malone, Baldwin resident and economic development chair for the Baldwin Civic Association. “The issue has come up many times over the years, and it hasn’t really been successful, so a lot of people have hope that this project will allow something like that to happen.” BHS senior Jennane Georges shared that sentiment. “A lot of us — a lot of the kids, especially — we all [wrote down] a rec center,” Georges said, “because I feel like we all want a place where we could all be together that’s just not school. There’s definitely not that many places.” Malone recommended that a community center be built in a mixed-use building so that “it could sustain itself with revenues from the other units.” Facilitators said they would review the comments and hone in on a common vision for downtown Baldwin. VHB Engineering, a consulting team working on the initiative, will work with Department of State representatives and the public until March 30 to develop plans for the downtown. A series of meetings is scheduled through then, including monthly Local Planning Committee meetings and community meetings. Abi Rudow, from VHB, said the revitalization boundary area has already been adjusted based on feedback from LPC members and the community. “There was a kind of desire for the Kellogg House to be included, so this boundary represents a slightly altered boundary so we could include the Kellogg House,” she said. The George Sumner Kellogg House, on Merrick Road, is a national historic landmark that has been a fixture in the community for more than a century. BHS students Olivia Biggs, Jasmine Bisht and Jazmyn Gonzalez said they would like to see a community space where adults and teens could come together to bridge the generational gap. They also suggested a community garden or an arts center where people could display their artwork. BHS 10th-grader Zavier Foster recommended adding a movie theater to the community. “What we’re most excited about is the potential to develop what we call the expansion area,” Baldwin Public Library Director Elizabeth Olesh said. “It’s 8,500 square feet of raw space on the upper floor of the library. We would like to be able to do something with that — to make that into public space.” “We’ve been hearing from our patrons that they want more meeting rooms,” Library Board President Ethell Smith said. “We want more people to be able to utilize the library in that way.” The unfinished upper level of the library, Olesh and Smith said, could serve as space for additional public meeting rooms, and the initiative could work as a great opportunity to work on these plans. Smith also said library administrators would like to increase the facilities for young adults. “They’re our future. We know that we’ve got to reach out to them.” The next LPC meeting is scheduled for Dec. 18, and the next community meeting for Jan. 14 next year.