At the Northport Village Board meeting this past Tuesday evening, Chris Wiebke and Doug Trani, organizers of the Downtown Northport Basketball Court Revitalization project, presented a detailed plan for the court and surrounding area to the new administration. This is the second time the plan has been presented, first to the prior village board in July 2021.
The organizers, along with other members of the Northport High School 1995 Long Island Champion Boys Basketball team, spearheaded the campaign to revitalize the court, which was constructed in 1987 but has since fallen into disrepair.
The current court, Chris explained on Tuesday, has suffered from minimal upkeep, tree root damage, cracked asphalt, swampy surroundings and unsightly landscaping. The dimensions of the court are also too small for five-on-five competition and the equipment is outdated.
Chris told the story of how this project came about during his presentation to the board. Last year, his father passed away and the funeral was at Nolan Funeral Home. To his surprise, Chris’s teammates showed up to pay their respects. Afterwards, they took a walk down Main Street and along the harbor, stopping at the basketball court.
“We remembered playing there as kids and we were struck by how badly it was in disrepair,” he said. “So probably in a moment that was inspired by grief and wanting to do something good, we said ‘You know what would be cool? What if we got our personal networks together…and raised some money to redo this court?’” He said the plan was an impetus for the teammates to start talking more regularly; once they did they began to pursue the revitalization with a clear purpose and intent.
The mission for the 1995 champs was clear: create a modern basketball court in Cow Harbor Park that is functional, beautiful, and a safe and positive space for kids, and that will entice more residents and visitors to enjoy Northport Village.
Community support for the initiative has been evident. A GoFundMe page established last summer quickly raised $66,500 toward the project and in December, Village officials, in collaboration with New York State Senator James Gaughran, announced the procurement of additional funds in the form of a $75,000 State and Municipal Facilities (SAM) grant.
The project includes many impressive features, including state-of-the-art equipment on a larger playing space that’s suitable for competitive play. There will also be full landscaping upgrades, with all native plantings, plus water permeable pavers, new fencing and court barriers, 360-degree seating, and modern water management techniques including rain gardens and new drywalls.
An extensive plan and the necessary funds are in place, so what’s next?
Mayor Donna Koch explained to the room, which was standing room only for the presentation, that Cow Harbor Park is leased by the Village through the Town of Huntington (TOH). “No matter what we do down there, the farmers’ market, everything has to be vetted through the Town of Huntington,” she said. The next step, according to the mayor, is to send over a formal request to the TOH, which will then have to go to their planning, engineering and even open space boards. “Once we hear back from them, we can move forward. But right now, because the town owns the land, the Village’s hands are tied,” she noted.
The 40-year term lease with the TOH that Mayor Koch discussed was signed in February 1987 and divides the property into five parcels that includes Cow Harbor Park and the waterfront area at the end of Main Street. The land that’s part of the proposed court revitalization is Parcel 4 and, as noted in the lease, is to be used as a public park that’s available for use by Northport Village and Town of Huntington residents. The lease states that “said premises are to be used for public park purposes with the Lessee having the right to redesign said premises.” Beyond that description, no limitations are noted, aside from using it for commercial, business or industrial purposes, which is why the farmers’ market must be approved every year.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Village resident Doug Roberts asked if the mayor and trustees supported the project and whether or not community members had to “lobby” the board to make it happen. “I believe we’re on board, I think there are some questions…” said Mayor Koch. Trustee Joe Sabia added, “We are all on board, it’s beautiful, the problem is we have to get to Huntington.”
When the Journal reached out to Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth’s office about the project, just hours before the Village board meeting, Public Information Officer Lauren Lembo said the supervisor “wholeheartedly” supports the park improvement plan, adding that the project was discussed when the supervisor's staff met with Village officials last week. “The Town's sole role would be a vote from the town board accepting a donation funding the improvements to the park, but we have not formally received any proposal or concept plan yet,” she said.
According to Mayor Koch, a formal application must be submitted to the Town of Huntington for the project to move forward. This is something the previous administration did not appear to think was necessary, according to Trustee Dave Weber, who met with Supervisor Smyth about the project last year.
Trustee Meghan Dolan, the new commissioner of parks, noted her support for the project, saying, “I think it’s very clear to us and to anybody in this room, and it will be clear to the Town of Huntington, that this is an improvement and it’s beneficial in every way – from a fiscal standpoint, an aesthetic standpoint, a community building standpoint, health, environmental, infrastructure, and an inclusion and accessibility standpoint.”
At the end of the discussion, Mr. Trani, one of the project organizers, asked the board that if and when the project is approved by the Town of Huntington, “Do we have a commitment that at the very next Village board meeting, there will be a resolution for this project?” Mayor Koch responded, “I would like to wait for the Town of Huntington and I’m not sure that I can commit to you saying the very next meeting we will go out to bid. I will need to discuss it with my administrator and the rest of the board, and I’ll need to know the exact steps that we’ll need to take…Once all our eggs are in order, yes, we are going to go with it.”
Mr. Trani continued: “On the backs of our team, on the backs of many others that have supported this project, we are just shy of $150,000. That’s pretty remarkable. We are trying to do something to beautify [this area] and there’s a sense of urgency on this project. Chris and I would like you to feel this sense of urgency. So once that comes in from the Town of Huntington, please for the children of this town, have a sense of urgency to build a beautiful area that the kids can enjoy.”
When the Journal circled back with Supervisor Smyth’s office yesterday for clarification on procedures going forward, Ms. Lembo replied, “The original information I was provided, about accepting a donation, is true. I was originally told no other approvals were needed, but that answer has since changed.”
After checking with the town attorney, who attended the meeting last week with Mayor Koch and Village Treasurer Len Marchese, Ms. Lembo added, “Both our Departments of Planning & Environment and Engineering Services will review the plans when they are submitted and make recommendations as needed; the Town will do whatever we can to help expedite the process. The project itself is being handled by the Village.”
The Journal reached out to Mayor Koch again today for an update on the project. She said that Don Tesoriero, assistant to the mayor, has been in communication with the TOH to supply the request of certified project drawings. She added, “Doug Trani, Chris Wiebke, along with Trustee Weber have all been made aware and are working diligently to get this accomplished.”