Marriott developer checks out of Lynbrook project


Two days after Mayor Bill Hendrick announced that he had doubts about the lengthy process of building a Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Lynbrook at a meeting of the village trustees on July 17, hotel developer Lee Browning sent Hendrick a letter expressing his desire to quit the project.

“While I appreciate the efforts of so many participants over the years, it is now clear to me that the project is simply not going to come to fruition,” Browning, president of Riverhead Hotel Management Corp., wrote. “We have negotiated with three administrations, held countless meetings, spending hundreds of hours, unfortunately for naught.”

According to Hendrick, the letter ended the village’s agreement with Browning to build the Marriott, which would have been constructed at the corner of Broadway and Langdon Place. “I’m not sure it was a bad decision,” Hendrick said of Browning’s letter.

Browning told the Herald that the process had simply taken too long. He expressed disappointment about having to “throw in the towel,” but added that it was the only choice given all the delays the project encountered.

After the initial proposal, the location changed three times before the village and Browning’s company settled on the six-story hotel atop a self-contained parking garage. And Browning never submitted building permits and architectural drawings to the trustees, and repeatedly sought extensions. He said he needed them because village officials continuously put off approving the building and kept asking Marriott to change its designs. In the meantime, Browning completed a Marriott in Riverhead.

The latest delay in the process came on June 5, when at a public hearing at Village Hall, Bruce Hafner, the attorney representing Browning, requested another extension of a deadline for filing paperwork. He said that it was taking Browning longer than anticipated to get the approval to build because an engineer would have to inspect the parking garage to ensure that it was structurally sound, then work with Marriott architects to draw up plans for the hotel. In addition, the village, the Building Department, the Fire Department, representatives of the county and others would all have to give their approval.

“That’s just the character of the building and the way it has to be constructed,” Hafner said at the hearing.

Ultimately, the board delayed a vote on the extension at Deputy Mayor Alan Beach’s request. The board was expected to make a decision at a meeting on July 17, but Beach continued to express hesitance. He said he was concerned with Browning’s request to turn over the building’s lease before construction was completed. “There’s a couple of things I would like to find out about the franchise agreement,” Beach told Hafner at the July meeting.

Browning said he wanted to add the condition because he is getting older. “I was 59 when I started the project in Lynbrook,” he said. “I was young and dumb … [But] at some point, you want to slow down a little bit.” He added that he “thought it was a reasonable request.” Marriott would have had to approve anyone Browning wanted to appoint to take over the lease..

Hendrick also expressed concerns about the slow pace of the project and how an extension would delay the construction of a new parking lot for Lynbrook residents. “I don’t want to hold up that parking field for 3½ years,” he said. “It’s going to be a commuter lot, and I’m nervous about that.” The proposed garage would have included 306 parking spaces that were to be split between the village and the hotel.

Those concerns, Hendrick said, would have caused him to vote against the extension when the board was scheduled to reconsider the motion on Sept. 18. “Now it’s over anyway,” he said.

Both Browning and Hendrick said they plan to move on to other projects. For Browning, the failure of the Lynbrook Marriott is an opportunity to develop other hotels on Long Island. “I’ll do other projects in other towns,” he said, adding that he is working on one within five miles of Lynbrook. He declined to offer specifics.

Hendrick, meanwhile, said he would like to focus more of his efforts on the movie theater, currently under construction on Merrick Road. “It’s going to be a nice, nice project,” he said. “I’d like to finish that and look around to see what the community needs.” Hendrick said he believed that the movie theater would ignite business downtown. He also suggested that the community might benefit from co-ops or condominiums on the Marriott site, but added that village officials would not move forward with any plans for the lot until the theater is completed.

“The village will move on and be better and stronger than ever,” he said.