Culmination of multi-year plan
“And then we had $10 million dropped in on us (laughter).”
Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro delivered the punchline after detailing how the local arts organization finally found a home.
The mayor presided over a ribbon cutting on May 20 of the new Westbury Arts building on Schenck Avenue. It was one of the fruits of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant the village received in 2016. Westbury was the first municipality on Long Island to earn the award in the first year of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s program.
“It’s creating energy in our downtown and creating reasons for people to come to our downtown,” Cavallaro told the assembled. “The Westbury Arts Council was in its infancy when we were awarded the grant. From the very beginning, we were always talking about getting an arts-centered space where the Arts Council could do its best work. We talked about getting a storefront on Post Avenue, but nothing happened. It wasn’t the right time.”
Then came the joke about the $10 million.
The mayor observed that the structure was designed specifically to be a place for art. He had seen the building in the days before, and it was beautiful, he related, But today, seeing the artwork on the wall, it “transformed the space.”
“With the completion of this project, Westbury gains a new downtown cultural gathering place and will enable Westbury Arts to expand its arts and cultural programming, helping to further Westbury’s goal of becoming one of Long Island’s most arts-centric communities,” read a press release.
In a statement, Governor Cuomo said, “Investments through the Downtown Revitalization initiative are helping to transform downtown communities like Westbury into vibrant, diverse hubs of activity for residents and visitors alike, and Westbury’s new cultural arts center will help the village and the entire region flourish for generations to come.”
Special guest at the ribbon cutting was Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, heading “the main department that deals with the DRI,” the mayor said. “She has taken great interest in seeing downtown revitalization take place in our state, and we just happen to be one of the beneficiaries of that [program] so I want to thank her.”
The state official called herself impressed and inspired, adding that it was the first actual event she had been to since the pandemic curtailed in-person activities.
Rosado related that her staff told her about the ribbon cutting, and “I said yes [to attending] for two reasons. The first one is, I love Westbury. And I love the DRI programs created for places like Westbury to give them a shot in the arm. We often as communities, as government leaders, think of art as a luxury. But in this pandemic we’ve found out that art is also essential. I’m so happy to see what this community has done through its DRI. And I know it takes [a] long [time]. So I’m really happy to be here today at this launch. The space is beautiful and is only a part of this DRI downtown corridor.”
Cavallaro praised the arts group as “the most spontaneously energetic and active and successful organization that I’ve seen take root in my 30-plus years in local government. And it’s really because of the passion and dedication of the members and the board.”
He named past presidents Rocco Lanzilotta and Chrissy Shelley, and said he felt confident in handing the building over to an organization led by Julie Lyon, the current president.
“I’m a little bit overwhelmed and really excited. This has been a long time coming,” Lyon said.
She named the directors and volunteers crucial to the project’s completion, and asked them to stand.
“Over the past six years Westbury Arts has done what we’ve always wanted to do—we just didn’t have a place to do it,” Lyon said, going on to name all the venues her organization had used across the village for its numerous events.
She called Westbury Arts “an organization whose mission is to develop arts and cultural programming that connects, educates and inspires our community. Our vision is a community where arts and culture are valued and instill a sense of belonging and pride. And our motto is ‘Together, We Create Westbury.’”
State Assemblyman Michael Montesano said of the use of DRI grants, “It just goes to show you how well thought out their projects are, their plans are. And their ability to work with the residents of the village for the betterment of the village. Everything is just taking off. It’s just a pleasure to be here.”
In a statement, Montesano said, “In a time where so much is uncertain, it is good to see the arts industry getting such a wonderful opportunity with the opening of this new building. This will be good for the community in more ways than one by providing a creative outlet for residents, supporting economic development efforts and much more. I am thrilled with this addition to our community and look forward to seeing the wonderful things that come from its opening.”
Nassau County Legislator Laura Schaefer also thanked Rosado, noting that “to be here on this momentous occasion is important. The mayor, certainly, for everything that you’ve done, for the leadership that you’ve had in the village. It’s led to this and so many great things that have gone on in the village and so many great things that [will] go on in the village, especially under this DRI program.”
Diagonally across the street from the building, Westbury Arts members had completed a mural that took up the whole side of a building. The design for the mural was decided by local middle school students based on the village of Westbury’s motto: “A Community for All Seasons.” Schaefer referred to it in her remarks.
The legislator said, “I’ve lived here my whole life and we’ve never had anything like this. And I think it’s fabulous, it really is. I drove by one day and suddenly the mural was there, that’s how it seemed (imitating a double take to laughter). I’ll go back and check it out later. I’ve never seen anything like that in Westbury because we’ve never had anything like that. Fantastic. I love having that here. It gives a whole different flavor to the community. It literally screams ‘Community.’ From what I’m looking at, everything is beautiful. This facility is beautiful. The architecture. The design. So I want to say congratulations.”
Cavallaro introduced village elected officials and employees instrumental in making the building a reality: Trustees Beaumont Jefferson, Steven Corte and Vinny Abbatiello (Trustee Bill Wise could not make it).
Senior Building Inspector William Mello “was the point person on the staff for all of the DRI projects,” the mayor said, and also named former Clerk/Treasurer Ted Blach and current Clerk/Treasurer Bob Juliano, along with Village Attorney Anna Vikse.
He praised architects/designers Laura Coletti and Michael Kralick of Farmingdale-based Impact Architecture. All Con Construction, a local Westbury company, was the main contractor.
The mayor recognized people from the Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District, stating, “They are always great partners with the village. I want to thank them for everything that they do for us.”
He also singled out village employer Gail Slotnick, who “put this together today and does a lot of work on all these special projects.
Cavallaro further thanked the local DRI committee, which he co-chaired with former Greenport Mayor Dave Kapell.
“He did a great job guiding us, as did Dave Ashton, who works for the Department of State. He continues to advise us on these projects and has been an invaluable resource to us,” Cavallaro noted. “Vision Long Island is also a great partner.”
On August 8, 2018, the village closed on the purchase of the building at 255 Sshenck Ave., which last housed a pet grooming business. On June 1, 2020 there was a groundbreaking “for the start of extensive interior renovations to provide space for galleries, public performances, arts education and meetings,” according to a press release.
Renovations cost nearly $2 million.
The village will rent the building to Westbury Arts for a nominal amount.