As seen in the The Village Times Herald 1/28, 2010
Historians may note that a luncheon last Wednesday at the Curry Club was a pivotal point in making the Three Village Area into this century's model college town.
The luncheon was the regular third Wednesday of the month meeting of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. The topic: Can the Three Villages become the Princeton of the 21st century? Sixty Chamber members filled the Curry Club dining room to overflowing.
The topic broadened as we planned the program. The Program Committee initially wanted to have Patchogue's innovative Mayor Paul Pontieri Jr. tell the Chamber how Patchogue's successes might be duplicated here. Then someone had the idea of asking the mayor to imagine himself here with the huge economic engine that is Stony Brook University right in the middle of his community.
Later we remembered something Lawrence Martin, dean of the Graduate School at SBU, said at the Chamber's holiday dinner in December: "We need to be planning our development together." It seems obvious enough until you realize that it hasn't been done, at least in more than a cursory fashion.
We invited Martin to speak with Mayor Pontieri at that meeting, along with Deborah Ongania, a Prudential Commercial Real Estate Broker who's a member of the Chamber and knowledgeable about local properties. Martin agreed to speak with the understanding that he would be there not as an official university representative but rather as a 25-year local resident.
What a trio these three speakers made. Ongania told the group that Princeton was an excellent model for us, rated the number one college town in America. Pontieri said he'd noticed driving up Nicolls Road that the University's layout was not conducive to interaction with the community. "It's like a castle," he said, urging all of us as a first step to look for strengths on campus and in the community which could be enhanced for mutual benefit.
Then Martin recalled growing up in England, in Cambridge, and said he couldn't imagine Cambridge the town and Cambridge the University existing without one another. "It all should be part and parcel, the same way here, Stony Brook University and the Three Villages," he said. "Kids should be playing on campus. Professors and shop keepers should be talking baseball … and astronomy, geology or whatever in college town taverns, conveniently accessible whether your starting point was the Stony Brook University Library or Quaker Path."
And yet, Martin said that after 25 years living in the Three Village Area and working on campus, he could find little of this interaction here.
What to do? The physical barriers between campus and community ought to be addressed, he said. Let's look at aerial maps of the whole area, campus and community and see what can be done.
The group at that Chamber luncheon included Bob Brown, our president emeritus who followed Roy Dragotta in running the Chamber for so many years, Interim Superintendent of Schools Don Webster, Three Village Civic President Kara Hahn, Professor Bob deZafra from SBU's Physics Department, a pioneer in ozone layer research and one of the first university people to get involved in local civic affairs, serving as president of the civic, also Cynthia Barnes from the Three Village Historical Society, Peter Lessing from Mirabelle/Three Village Inn and others.
They mentioned Assemblyman Steve Englebright's imaginative Setauket Center plan several years ago as a potential starting point for joint campus-community development. That would seem to make sense, especially since Steve as our local official and as a SBU faculty member has a great perspective on both sides of our town/gown situation.
The most important thing, however, is that this powerhouse group seemed united, enthusiastic about our Princeton possibilities.
The Chamber of Commerce and others have long been interested in this. As I moderated last Wednesday's program, I told the group that we'd wanted to pursue a Princeton college town model here for "at least 30 years," that the Chamber's founder, Roy Dragotta, who still sits with our Board of Directors, had sent two of his then-Board members to Princeton back in 1980. They came back filled with enthusiasm but it wasn't matched either on campus or in the community. Nothing happened.
The time, this time, seems ripe and I hope we'll be able build on last week's momentum and begin to make changes — town and gown working together — that will make our community and the campus within it part and parcel of each other.
Michael Ardolino is president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.