It was a morning to celebrate the greatness of downtown Patchogue Village, with the unveiling of a plaque naming it one of the Great Places in America.
But County Executive Steve Bellone had one question for the American Planning Association, which bestowed the honor upon the village.
“What took you so long?” he asked to laughter and applause from the large crowd that had gathered outside Patchogue Theatre for Performing Arts on Saturday.
“This is something we have known for a long time,” Bellone said, noting the village’s revitalization has become a model for struggling downtowns across Suffolk County and the rest of New York State and beyond.
“It is one of the great places in America,” he said.
Saturday, many of those who had contributed to the decades-long effort got to congratulate themselves and reflect on their accomplishments.
Eric Gertler, the newly appointed president and CEO of Empire State Development, the state’s chief economic development agency, was also on hand.
In his remarks, he pointed to a 1996 New York Times article about the village.
“I’m sorry to say, the article was not flattering,” he said. “The paper cited the closed and fire-ravaged lace mill. It talked about sagging home values. It also talked about the vacancies in 1/3 of the stores on Main Street.
“The article concluded the village had deteriorating fortunes, and not much to look forward to.”
But, he said, The Times didn’t take into account the people of Patchogue, their will and their spirit.
“It was the people who were prepared to write a different story,” Gertler said. “And today you see the dramatic difference, and feel how vibrant this village is now. The future is bright in Patchogue, and that’s a testament to the work of the local leaders, and a testament to all of you.”
The application for the national distinction was submitted by Alex Wallach, who works in the county Department of Economic Development and Planning.
The 30-year-old, who moved to Patchogue in 2017, emceed Saturday’s ceremonies, and gave the opening remarks to the crowd.
“This is a special place, a unique place,” Wallach said. “I thought it was time for the nation to know what I know, and what everybody here already knows, that this is one of the great places in America.
The day’s de facto guest of honor or Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri.
Pontieri deflected credit, likening himself to a humble bus driver fortunate enough to have a bus packed with the right people, who all helped make Patchogue’s turnaround possible.
He also credited former mayors for their visions, namely Stephen Keegan, who made the push to acquire, renovate and reopen the Main Street theater that played host to the pomp of the morning.
“For our downtowns to prosper, we need to bring our neighborhoods into our downtowns, and that’s what we did in Patchogue,” Pontieri said, pointing to the several housing projects off Main Street, such as Copper Beech, RiverWalk and New Village.
“The only thing I knew is that we needed feet on the streets,” he said.
Maxwell Sokol, the American Planning Association’s NY Metro Chapter president, was the last to take to the podium Saturday.
He had an answer for Bellone’s question.
“It took Alex this long to author the nomination,” he said. “His dedication to making today’s program possible, and celebrating all that is great about Patchogue is truly inspiring.”
Photo (L-R, not including background): Patchogue Village trustees Jack Krieger, Tom Ferb and Lori Devlin, Village Clerk Patricia Seal, Suffolk County Legislator Rob Calarco, emcee Alex Wallach, Mayor Paul Pontieri, and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine.