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Long Island microbrewery center is a big dream

Date: 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Publication: 

Newsday

Author: 

Michael Dobie
The proposed location for a microbrewery incubator in Copiague. Photo Credit: Michael Dobie
The proposed location for a microbrewery incubator in Copiague. Photo Credit: Michael Dobie

White paint peels off the brick exterior. The roof looks like corrugated tin, the part of it that still remains. The other part looks up to the sky, wide open to the elements. Most of the windows no longer have glass. Only some are boarded up.

The ramshackle building on South Strong Avenue is part of the future in Copiague. Babylon Town planners envision a $12 million microbrewery incubator — as many as 10 beer brewers, learning from each other, perfecting their products, offering them in a tasting room, then moving out and into their own facilities nearby, forming a kind of brewery row.

It’s a big dream, and Matt McDonough knows it.

“As much as people are reverse commuting to Brooklyn and Queens to beer gardens; this would be a destination,” says McDonough, head of Babylon’s Industrial Development Agency and the man behind the dream.

And there’s a part of you that wants to say: a microbrewery incubator . . . in Copiague?

Copiague . . . a destination?

And then you realize, there are all sorts of dreams for all sorts of communities and no shortage of ways to remake yours.

It’s one of the ongoing stories of Long Island, and everywhere. Do you want to change your community? If you do, what do you want it to become? If you don’t, what will it become?

It’s not easy to know what to do or when. Sometimes someone with a vision just plows ahead, strings together good decisions, and you end up with Patchogue, the poster child for revitalization. Sometimes the parts don’t work and you end up with much less.

For years, Long Island’s collective reflex was to do nothing. But increasingly, that’s being rejected. People are understanding that neighborhoods change, either by nature or by design. And at some point, you need to decide which side of the change curve you want to be on.

Riverhead, Ronkonkoma, Huntington Station, Hempstead, Riverside, Westbury, Lindenhurst, Glen Cove, Farmingdale, Kings Park — they’re all on the spectrum of making change, from nearly done or underway to planning or starting discussions.

They’re chasing Patchogue, which started with one project, a town house development.

And you’re back to thinking about that abandoned building on South Strong Avenue. It’s like many places on Long Island, an industrial site across a street from private homes in an uneasy mix.

McDonough dreams of Quincy Market in Boston. He cites stats about brewery successes in New York, and he has interest from local brewers working from their homes. He’s identified buildings nearby that could be bought, and is assembling federal, state and town funding to make it work. He’s got backing from local residents and businesses.

“It’s a philosophy of taking existing sites, no longer viable or useful, and turning them into something that will be,” town Supervisor Rich Schaffer says.
Both men see the incubator as part of a bigger plan. Babylon rezoned the downtown around Copiague’s train station, a quarter-mile away, to bring in new residential development and remake a gritty commercial area.

Will it work? Who knows, but it’s worth trying. When the transformation happens, it’s amazing.
I lived in Manhattan’s East Village in the late 1970s, on East Ninth Street, a few stoops from Tompkins Square Park, an ersatz farmer’s market of illegal crops. Many blocks were sketchy, but the rent was $350 a month.

Twenty-five years later, one of my daughters moved to the same block, and the neighborhood was vibrant and safe at all hours with bustling restaurants and bars. And the rent was $3,950.

Sometimes change is more than a dream.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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