Seven years into a 40-year lease, the Hampton Business District at Westhampton’s Francis S. Gabreski Airport is starting to take shape, though it is not quite what its developers, cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, had originally envisioned.
The business park, which will one day boast 10 buildings all nestled near the 30-foot-tall “Walking Figure”—an aluminum statue created by artist Donald Baechler of New York City and weighing close to 5,000 pounds—is not the technology hub that the Rechlers had planned when seeking approval for the development a decade earlier. Many had anticipated that the complex, which sits on 55 acres of county-owned land, would one day feature an assortment of companies dedicated to improving homeland security and even film production—all anchored by a three-story hotel.
Those plans have not materialized for myriad reasons, though a lack of interest from potential tenants seems to be the primary one. The Rechlers, meanwhile, are still making efforts to attract those types of businesses, even as they continue to move forward with development plans.
“We had conversations with high-tech type companies, yes, but, right from the get-go, we knew one of our markets and types of customers would be showrooms and home improvement for people in the building trades,” Mitchell Rechler said during a recent interview.
And that is exactly what the Hampton Business District has become—a place where established businesses can continue to grow and expand their operations.
Currently, three businesses are now open in the park’s already constructed 60,000-square-foot building, which resembles a warehouse from the outside and is now 90-percent occupied. Tate’s Bake Shop, a Southampton-based business that has rapidly expanded in recent years, has been leasing 37,141 square feet of space since last August; AC Lighting & Electric has been operating in 9,140 square feet of space since September 2014; and Carrier Enterprise Northeast, a heating, air conditioning and ventilation company, was the park’s first tenant and has rented 4,570 square feet of space since signing a lease in April 2014.
The second building—a 67,000-square-foot, single-story structure—was approved by the Southampton Town Planning Board in April and, when completed, will feature space for both offices and medical companies. The Rechlers, who intend to break ground on the building later this year, said they also hope to attract a tenant interested in opening a medical laboratory there. The building is slated to be constructed just to the south of the warehouse.
According to Chris Albert, a general manager with Carrier Enterprise Northeast, a national company, its representatives had been looking to find an eastern location that would best complement their clients’ needs. The company’s closest office was in Bohemia, making it difficult for them to attract contractors who needed parts to complete repairs in East Hampton Town, for example.
Mr. Albert noted that company officials had been looking for an East End location for years, primarily focusing on the Riverhead area, only to discover that most of the available spaces were in older buildings that would require a significant initial investment. Being able to open in a brand new facility is the main reason why the company signed a lease at Gabreski, he added.
“The location was perfect,” he said. “We can get to the North Fork and the South Fork, and it is a new space with other tenants nearby. It is actually good for us to have other businesses nearby.”
When work begins on the second building later this year, it will mark the next natural step in the evolution of the complex, according to Mitchell Rechler. Future plans still call for the addition of a restaurant, smaller office and commercial buildings, and the aforementioned hotel.
Still, Mr. Rechler was quick to note that the plans for the third structure would not commence until the second structure is further along with construction.
“The businesses that we had [rented to] really validated what we had anticipated, which is that the area needs quality industrial and office space,” Mr. Rechler said. “It really doesn’t exist on the East End.”
After discussing their idea for years, the Rechlers were finally able to sign a 40-year lease with the county in 2009, though they did not break ground on the first building until 2014. Part of that delay had to do with Southampton Town not immediately signing off on a change of zone for the business park, which required the approval of special zoning called a planned development district, or PDD. Town officials had to tweak their PDD laws for the project, including the changing parking regulations.
After some initial concerns—including those regarding the size of the hotel, which exceeds zoning height limits—the response from officials and community members has been mostly positive, according to Mr. Rechler.
“The response has been great,” he said. “People are really happy with how the building looks and we are helping bring additional activity to the airport, so the response has been very favorable.”
Regarding his and his cousin’s initial plans for the park, Mr. Rechler insists that they never pitched their idea as just a technology hub—even though initial discussions about the change of zone focused on that aspect.
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who served on the Town Board when the business park was approved, said she is pleased with the final product, noting that it is already allowing established local businesses to continue to grow and thrive—pointing specifically to Tate’s.
“It is interesting for me because I was on the Southampton Town Board when we were making changes in order to enhance the possibility of bringing in certain tenants, so I have seen it for many years from the town perspective and now from the county perspective,” she said. “In Suffolk County we are really focused on enhancing economic development, and I think that Westhampton is a really good area for it.”
Also coming into play in the park’s development was the rebounding of the building industry on Long Island. Recognizing renewed interest in the housing industry following several years of declining values, the Rechlers began marketing their space to those businesses offering equipment and services that would be in great demand once again.
“That is why AC Electric and Carrier Enterprise are perfect examples,” Mr. Rechler said. “They are serving local contractors who can bring home buyers in because the East End home buying market has been so strong over the last seven or eight years.”
Southampton Town Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty noted that most of the business park was already planned out by the Town Board before it was forwarded to his board for review. His board, however, did work with the Rechlers when it came to designing the buildings, as well as the recent landscaping improvements.
Personally, Mr. Finnerty said the Rechler Business Park is a great addition to the area, even if it is not exactly what was envisioned a decade earlier.
“I think it is important that it diversifies our economy out here,” he said. “Our economy is pretty much tied to the luxury housing market and this provides an alternate economic base. It diversifies the economy for a healthier one, I feel.”
Though his company has no future tenants lined up yet for the seven other buildings, Mr. Rechler said he would like for one to house a day care facility and another to have a restaurant. They also intend to attract a tenant for the hotel, pointing to the success of several others on the East End in recent years.
“We want to get much further along with the project before we move forward with that,” he said, referring to the hotel. “It is something we are looking at, but based on the conversations we have had with both hotel operators and lenders, we need to be further along.”
He is also happy to continue taking things one step at a time at Gabreski, noting that he does not want to flood the market with tenant space all at once.
“When we started the project we had said we expected it to take about 10 years, and at this point we are probably looking at another six to eight,” Mr. Rechler said. “We are probably moving a little faster than our projected time frame.”