Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce"

HarborFrost Plans to Bring Spark to Winter

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By Claire Walla

HarborFest … in February?

That’s the idea.

This winter, the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce aims to hold the first of what it hopes will become an annual tradition based on the successful September event. This one will instead be called HarborFrost.

This year’s proposed one day Frost, tentatively set for Saturday, February 5 from 3 to 7 p.m., will revolve around the theme “Fire and Ice,” an idea that will manifest itself through the event’s main spectacles. In addition to flanking Main Street with two ice sculptures (as of yet with undetermined designs), the event will be capped-off by a fire works display that will light-up the winter sky over Long Wharf. Event planners are also floating the idea of having a hot soup contest (in the same vein of HarborFest’s chowder contest), and will encourage local restaurants to offer post-fireworks prix fixe menus.

“The goal is to get some sort of winter activity to give Sag Harbor families something to do in the wintertime,” said chamber member Phil Bucking, owner of the Sag Harbor Gardening Center and one of the catalysts behind this year’s event.

Plans to implement HarborFrost are not yet set in stone, though the Chamber of Commerce hopes to have insurance and logistical documentation to the village trustees by Friday, a few days before the board’s meeting on Monday, January 10 at 6 p.m.

Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Robert Evjen said that he and other chamber members have been toying with the idea of creating a winter festival for a few years now. Based on the success of HarborFest, held each September, HarborFrost will bring people to Main Street for a day of shopping, eating and celebrating — in spite of the cold.

“We want an event that will help our businesses in the winter months,” Evjen added. The event could be especially helpful for stores looking to clean-out last year’s summer merchandise in preparation for the coming year. Keeping with the theme of fire and ice, one of the chamber’s ideas is for stores to sell summer (fire) merchandise alongside winter (ice) goods.
Previous attempts to create such a Frost have included more ambitious activities, like a Polar Bear Plunge and plans to bring an ice-skating rink to Main Street. But these ideas never came to fruition, Bucking said.

“Funding has been an issue, and it’s sometimes hard to get people involved,” he added.

This year, however, event organizers have a clear and simple plan of action, with several financial pledges already in place.

The total cost will run about $14,000, more than half of which is already expected to be covered by financial pledges.

Prudential Douglas Elliman, Brown Harris Stevens, Hampton Gym Corp and the Sag Harbor Express have pledged money that will go toward the cost of the ice sculptures (which will cost a total of $7,000); and local non-profit Save Sag Harbor has signed on to cover all media costs (which are budgeted at $2,000). What’s more, the Grucci family, which estimated the cost of a five to seven minute firework show at $5,000, said it would match any amount over that $5,000 total dollar-for-dollar. (In other words, if the chamber raises $7,500, the Grucci’s will put on a $10,000 show.)

Other Main Street businesses have reportedly expressed interest in making small financial contributions, should the village approve plans for HarborFrost at its trustee meeting on Monday.

“Since this is the first year, the plan is to do more and make the event bigger [each subsequent year],” Bucking explained. “This time, we just want to get the ball rolling.”

Sag Harbor Village Looks to Stabilize West Water Street

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Whether they have the help of a luxury condominium developer or not, Sag Harbor Village officials acknowledged this week that a long term plan needs to be developed to stabilize the waterfront embankment on West Water Street, parts of which have taken a beating during recent nor’easters.

On Tuesday, December 8 Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride asked the board for suggestions on how to handle the beachfront on West Water Street after receiving word from Sag Harbor Superintendent of Public Works Jim Early that the embankment had been damaged for the fourth time this year.

“I feel the village should work on getting the area in a stable condition before we have another storm and we could possibly lose more of the bank and possibly some of the road,” said Early in a letter to the board.

According to Gilbride, Early and his crew have already had to replenish the embankment several times this year.

Across the street from the beachfront is the luxury condominium development known as 21 West Water Street, which recently renewed its building permit with the village. Earlier this fall, project manager Mark D’Andrea said the condos were in the final stages of completion. According to Gilbride, part of their original site plan approval included an agreement that the developers would aid the village in creating a waterfront boardwalk at the site, although discussions stalled after the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) expressed some concerns with the plan, which may have altered the roadway in its creation.

No permits have been issued for a project at the embankment.

“This is our property, our project,” said village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr., noting any agreement on the part of the developers was simply to participate with the village in stabilizing the area.

“We will have to give this serious thought during the budget process,” said Gilbride.

“This has been going on for a number of years,” acknowledged village trustee Ed Gregory.

The board agreed to empower village planner Richard Warren to look at revising plans for the area and continue talks with the NYSDEC in order to get the ball rolling on stabilizing the area, and would contact the developers of 21 West Water Street about their involvement.

Attorney Edward Burke, Sr., representing the Hastings family, approached the board looking to appeal last month’s decision by trustees to deny the couple the right to acquire an adjacent, village-owned sliver of land used for many years as a driveway to the family’s Norte Dame Road residence.

According to the Hastings’ environmental planner, Susanna Herman, the family hopes to demolish and rebuild their home in order to accommodate their four young children. Given the flood zone the house resides in, Herman said a new sanitation system is being “shoe horned” into the property as a result of setback requirements and does not meet Suffolk County code. The Hastings would like to be able to shift the system further away from the water, and can only do so by either acquiring the piece of village-owned property.

Herman said the Hastings would also accept an easement from the village and noted variances and approval by the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board will also be required before the project can move forward.

Trustee Tiffany Scarlato said she had concerns about impeding public access to the waterfront – a priority for a village with a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), which demands the board protect that access. Herman countered that no one in the neighborhood uses the path to access the bulkheaded beach and that there is access at other points in the neighborhood.

Kieran Murphree, representing the Hastings with Burke, said a title search was underway to see who truly owned the strip of land, noting a survey from the 1930s indicated the property was not meant for public access, but specifically for access to the Hasting property.

Gilbride suggested waiting to see the results of the title search before the board moved forward with a decision.

“If it’s the village’s you will have a difficult sell with me,” he said.

Sag Harbor has officially struck a deal with National Grid to continue use of its land on Long Island Avenue as a parking lot for the next year. According to Gilbride, National Grid has had private offers to use the property, but Thiele noted the NYSDEC has not determined what, if anything, can be developed on the site, which was recently remediated for coal tar.

The yearlong lease, at no cost to the village, will be good until November 30.

On Tuesday, the village board adopted a new law streamlining how Sag Harbor officials deal with abandoned boats following a months-long battle to remove a vessel left drifting and crashing against the breakwater. The new law allows village officials to remove any hazards to navigation with little bureaucracy.

In other news, Gilbride read a proclamation naming May 1 Silver Star Banner Day, a day created by The Silver Star Families of America to honor ill and wounded soldiers. The board also acknowledged local Eagle Scout Mark Mahoney, who led the village in its Salute to the United States flag at the opening of the meeting.

Lastly, the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce was granted permission to host pony rides on December 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., although a location has yet to be established. While the Chamber hoped to use the grass at Marine Park, chamber member Benito Vila said he would work with Early to come up with a new location after Early expressed concerns about damage to the grass and sprinkler system.

According to Vila, it is the hope of the Chamber that the event will bring more holiday shoppers to Main Street.

Robert Evjen

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The Prudential Douglas Elliman real estate agent and President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce who talks about the downturn in the economy and the effect on the real estate market and Main Street businesses.

By Kathryn G. Menu

Given your unique perspective with the chamber and as a real estate agent, what do you see as the current climate of Main Street in the face of the economic downturn?

I can say that Main Street has been okay so far. In fact sales have been at the least as good as last year. The fall has been steady – with the Sidewalk Sale promotion there was a huge jump in sales, which we are very happy about. Going forward, the shopkeepers have ordered their holiday merchandise and are expecting a steady holiday shopping season, which is interesting when you listen to the news about the rest of the United States. I still believe we are a little insulated [from the downturn in the economy] out here. We are not hit as hard and we rebound quicker if there is a slight decline, so I think the merchants looking forward towards the holidays see it as business as usual. It’s not going to be that bad.

One industry I was curious about is construction and landscaping. Do you have any sense how those industries are fairing in this economy?

I think the contractors and builders who are not already building spec homes have taken a “wait and see” attitude. Of course financing is critical to that end of the business, and has become difficult. The ones who are already in the process are just going forward. There is business on the horizon, I’ve talked to some contractors who say there is business through February – they are seeing jobs lining up. It is not how it used to be, of course, but it is not as bad as some have projected.

Why do you think we are insulated out here?

I think it’s the proximity to New York. I think it is the type of people who have second homes out here. I think it might be a stronger middle class, a little bit wealthier of homeowner. I think they are less affected. I think the people who are hardest hit are people who were struggling to begin with – those living paycheck to paycheck, but I think we do have an upscale shopper that other communities don’t have, which has helped Main Street along.

Is that something we see across the East End?

I can say what has saved Sag Harbor is we have affordable rents on Main Street. I can say that East Hampton rents are very high and it is difficult to maintain any business especially mom and pop businesses.

From a real estate perspective are we seeing the same buoyancy that we are on Main Street or is it taking a hit?

 There are still sales going on although it is much harder [to buy] with what is going on in the credit markets. The type of buyer [agents] are looking for has to be extremely credit worthy, with a good credit rating or an all cash buyer. But there are still deals going on. I would say that what people are looking for now is on the lower end of the market, and there are also a lot of land sales going on, which is a great barometer for where the real estate market is. You might have some builders seeing a good value, good purchase in land – it’s an investment in the future. And the prices haven’t come down too far. That is encouraging as far as I am concerned, because I think we could be at the bottom, and if that is the case I think we will bounce back after a couple of difficult quarters. I know that [Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernacke was on television this morning saying we are going to be weak for a couple of quarters, and I do agree.

So do you think by this summer we will start to see an economic turn around?

Hopefully by next summer we will see a patient that is up and walking, as they say.

Do you think we will ever return to the highs we saw [in the real estate market] in 2006?

We will. I really think so. Many people in the real estate industry have varying comments about that, that it will be anywhere from five to eight years, eight and 10 years and 10 to 12 years, but all are optimistic we will get back to those levels, but it will be a slower incline.

A big problem with the economy as a whole is a lot of people were spending beyond their means. Do you think people looking to buy homes will need more in the way of credit and up front payments in order to get their foot in the door?

Yes. The big question on everyone’s mind is, once we have put this cash into the credit markets, how is this all going to work? How are the banks going to be regulated? How do they get back on their feet after the housing crisis? But I think going forward it will be much more difficult to purchase as a first time homebuyer unless your credit is very, very good … Let’s remember the American dream is to own a home and I don’t think you can cut a segment of the population out of being able to accomplish the American dream.

Earlier you mentioned houses on the lower end of the spectrum were selling. Do you ever think we will see houses dip back into the $400,000 and $300,000 range, creating more affordable options for first time homebuyers?

Right now there are a few in the $400,000 range, but I think once people have determined a bottom has hit, I don’t think they will go lower. Again, it is the seller that will help the first time homebuyer as to whether they are willing to negotiate a price. The sellers are coming down in their prices now, but they are not giving away product, which tells me you don’t need to sell right now unless you really need to sell. I think the prices will stay the same for now, and once we hit the bottom we will start to see them come back up.

What does an agent need to do in this economic climate to survive?

An agent needs to work very, very hard in this market. One, an agent has to get that listing that is in front of every other agent. Secondly, agents need to get themselves out there and differentiate themselves from other agents to be able to help sell that home or help buyers buy that home. Agents really need to look at ways to market homes differently, and the internet is probably the best way to do that. You have to know how to use the internet, market on the internet. You have to do more than traditionally has been done.

So what is the future in real estate?

I see the market returning to where we are, although maybe not so grandiose in how it climbs upwards. I see inventory that is larger now, but that will whittle down to something manageable. I see a real estate market – a market that is essentially our economy out here – coming back.

And Main Street?

 Main Street’s future will be telling in coming months. This is how I think the Chamber of Commerce can help Main Street businesses, in events like the Sidewalk Sale, which helped tremendously. We have just started planning our holiday season. I think for the holiday season we will start to do more advertising, probably in print, and we are going to start earlier. Some of the bigger stores have decided to put out their holiday merchandise now because a lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck and doing planned buying. So we are going to start our holiday season earlier than normal and will probably expand our holiday events to attract larger shopping crowds.

What kind of events are you talking about?

Well we already have Santa’s arrival, which is great for the kids. We have our Christmas light-up, which we might want to add some entertainment to this year. We have our Halloween parade coming up.

What do you do in January and February?

Good question. January and February are the toughest months of the year out here. Our businesses still have to pay their winter rents. If possible, we have had some discussion, about having a winter carnival or something to bring people out. Sag Harbor is great year round and I think a lot of people don’t realize how incredibly beautiful it is here in the winter, especially when the snow starts falling.


A Wary Main Street Waits On Congress Bailout Vote

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As the nation waits with bated breath while the United States Congress takes another stab at a $700 billion bank rescue plan some government officials say is aimed at protecting the economy from virtual collapse, communities across the country are wondering how the mistakes made on Wall Street will change their way of life on Main Street in the coming year.

According to Congressman Tim Bishop, if the government sits idly by as credit and loan markets continue to shrink, and banks and investment houses fold, Main Street will undoubtedly feel the effects of the shaky economy in a major way and in some cases Main Street already is.

Last night, on Wednesday, October 1 the United States Senate was scheduled to vote on a new $700 billion economic bailout plan, and early reports showed strong expectations across party lines that the measure would pass. According to Congressman Bishop, the House of Representatives would then consider the bill today, Thursday, or Friday.

The expectations surrounding Wednesday’s vote echoed similar hopes on Capital Hill last weekend, prior to a defeated bailout bill in the House on Monday, 228-205 – a bill Congressman Bishop voted in favor of. On its face, the bill would have provided $350 billion to financial institutions, with another $350 billion available under Congress review. Following the House’s defeat of the bill the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 700 points, a historic decrease. Although the markets rallied on Tuesday with the news that Congress would take another stab at the economic recovery bill, Bishop said on Wednesday if something is not done to help stabilize the economy, Wall Street will not be the only ones affected by what follows, but our local Main Streets as well.

“I think the risk to Main Street is enormous if we do not fix this,” said Bishop. “People talk about this plan as a ‘Wall Street bailout,’ and what we are really trying to do is protect Main Street. Whether we like it or not, our economy is rooted in the credit markets.”

 Bishop said the East End of Long Island was not immune to the downturn in the economy, noting on Wednesday morning he had already received news that he viewed as a possible harbinger of things to come.

“I was just told this morning that one of the largest builders on the East End has laid off 40 workers,” he said. “That is on Main Street, not Wall Street.”

 “So I do believe we have to move aggressively to fix this and doing so is much less about bailing out a reckless and greedy Wall Street and more about protecting our neighbors,” said Bishop.

According to Greg Ferraris, mayor and resident in Sag Harbor, in his professional opinion as a certified public accountant who represents a number of East End businesses, there very well could be ramifications locally as a result of the fiscal crisis if action is not taken.

“Certain industries have already been affected by the slow down and the housing crisis that has turned into a complete economic crisis,” he said.

Ferraris added he believed under the right circumstances the storm could be weathered, and blamed the media for painting a far gloomier portrait of the economic climate to come, which has in turn affected the market. He did acknowledge without the right plan in place, and without people beginning to take more responsibility for spending practices, things could get worse and easily trickle down to Main Street businesses.

One industry that has seen a downturn is real estate on the East End, an economic bastion for many as prices soared over decades.

On Wednesday, Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President and real estate agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Robert Evjen said one of the biggest challenges facing a slowing real estate market today was tightening loan and credit markets.

According to Evjen, many felt the tightening of the credit, loan, and real estate markets as early as last spring. But regardless, said Evjen, he does not believe the market locally will be impacted as dramatically as the rest of the country.

“I still feel to this day that we are insulated compared to the rest of the country,” said Evjen. “I don’t think any other real estate market is as closely tied to Wall Street as a secondary home market in the Hamptons.”

And while Wall Street may be suffering as of late, Evjen said from a real estate perspective there are two ways to look at the current economy – it can bode badly as Wall Street won’t see the kind of bonuses that led to record breaking sales or it could benefit the housing market as brokers look to invest in, and cash in on, a slowing market.

“I would still look for value in real estate like this before putting my money in the markets, where it is more likely to take a dive,” said Evjen. “Now is the time to buy.”

As for Main Street’s economy, as Chamber president, Evjen said he did believe shoppers would be more cautious in their purchases, avoiding big ticket items, but nonetheless shopping.

“I think Main Street here is insulated in the type of guests we have – visitors that have discretionary incomes, whereas other communities will have a much tougher go of things,” said Evjen. “I think we will be okay.”

What was of particular interest to Evjen was what effect the credit crunch and fiscal crisis would have on local lending institutions, which he said roughly 80 percent of Sag Harbor businesses relied on for revolving loans to cover large, seasonal purchases.

“It’s amazing how we are all tied into this,” he said.

According to Douglas Shaw, senior vice president at Suffolk County National Bank and Kevin O’Connor, President and CEO of Bridgehampton National Bank, businesses should not be worried, as both banks reported their conservative lending practices have protected the institutions from the same catastrophe facing banks that took on risky loans.

Shaw and O’Connor noted what these banks failed to do, and what Suffolk County National and BNB did not overlook, was to assess one’s capacity for paying back a loan in the first place.

 “We’ve been in business for 118 years and while we have evolved the fundamental requirements we have had have not changed that much,” said Shaw “Running our business this way is good for the bank, good for the borrower, good for the employees of the bank and good for the community.”

“We are still making loans and local business can still come to us,” said O’Connor. “We are open for business …We have been asked if we have tightened our credit standards, and our response is we never loosened them.”

Shaw added he believes a number of community banks have maintained these types of conservative standards, which will help weather the storm ahead.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.