Written by Francis X. McQuade
What is the better vision for Long Beach: as a tourist destination or as a residential community?
Either view has its merits. But I believe that to insure long-term solvency, stability and prosperity, the City must select one view or the other as its preferential option. Once selected, policies and practices must be shaped consistent with that option.
Despite its seashore assets, Long Beach has lagged in its potential as a tourist destination. Tailoring City priorities to promote tourism would bring new money into town and would enhance the value of property. Greater renown would attract “clean industry” so that the type and scope of a Lancer’s would be the norm rather than the exception. Growth in tourism would buttress local employment and allay the need to keep raising taxes by broadening the tax base.
To be a tourist destination would require the development of Boardwalk businesses (and conversely to overcome the anticipated complaints of high rise residents to have to “share their space.” Long Beach would need a marina and seafood restaurants. The Incinerator site would be part of a development plan as a perfect place for a bay-front nautical village (clearing Brownsfield concerns and anticipating demands of North Park neighborhoods for “affordable housing” and overcoming the community’s inertia of coming into North Park for new business.)
How about a bait and tackle shop (even a small concession at the Magnolia Pier?) The West End streets could beset up for “sea-shore chic” with brick sidewalk curbing and nautical-motif lampposts. The Superblock must finally be developed. Discussions on casinos would eventually have to enter the discussion and should begin now.
Tax incentives and relief is part of the bait to attract private investment. City Hall would have to be prepared to enforce illegal housing ordinance in anticipation of an uptick on rental values in a successful tourist venue. Licenses for B&B’s and tourist boarding houses can start again.
I would hope the City would handle issues of eminent domain responsibly and at all times reasonably safeguard delicate environmental considerations. Such would be the challenge to balance.
Others may prefer the residential community option. Tourism brings traffic and transiency. Re the police as constituted capable to handling such a new constituency? The input of residential constituents would necessarily challenged by a commitment to tourism and there may be opposition by long-time residents who will perpetually recall “a quieter Long Beach.”
But it seems to me that Long Beach must outgrow its insular mentality. The “old-family” inertia to which political leadership is wed if not held hostage must give way. Long Island in general and Long Beach in particular are by-products of preferences for small community and history of thinking locally. Its population is static and aging. It’s time to move on and think out of the box. Forget the anti-growth, anti-market buzz word of “sustainability” that many carpet-bagging NFP organizations throw about and think of potential in a free market.
Caught in a vortex of never-ending school taxes and rising City taxes, we need new revenue and a wider tax base.
Obviously, a new Long Beach has to distance itself from its culture of political corruption and patron age. The genius and the investment revenues of outsiders and of partisans of both political parties should find a welcome. To the extent the Community Reconstruction Program enlisted a committee of retreads and partisans was not a good start to a serious culture of change.
Obviously as well, a healthy City policy that attends to both tourist and residential concerns is not entirely mutually exclusive. But no dabbling allowed! This disastrous dabbling was illustrated by the 2011 Quicksilver fiasco. The City took on hosting a surfing tournament of international scope only to ham-handedly pull back its scope and cancel events when they got heat from some well-heeled residents. The City must declare a clear priority statement and then pursue it rigorously. Perhaps the option can be put to the electorate through a ballot referendum.
In my opinion, the time has come to unleash the giant and to make the Long Beach miracle happen.