The new Celebrate Park along Lake Avenue in St. James officially opened for use this week.
Representatives from of the Town of Smithtown, landscape architect Bob Retnauer of RDA, architect Michael Morbillo of Enspire Design, local community organizations, business owners and other members of the community gathered on a sunny but chilly autumn day to commemorate the new park between Fourth and Fifth streets directly.
Two years ago, the town entered a contract with Suffolk County to purchase the park property where once stood the Irish Viking and construct a municipal parking lot and community park. The municipal parking lot, finished in the spring of 2021, has room for 33 parking spaces and features an electric vehicle charging station.
Celebrate Park, completed this past August and located across from Mickey’s Ice Cream Kitchen, boasts an ornate wrought iron gateway, a pavilion with a donor wall, a pergola with seating and original artwork by St. James resident Arline Goldstein, synthetic greenery, bench wall seating and a dog fountain.
For Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, Tuesday’s occasion marked the third phase in a string of efforts to revitalize the St. James community, which includes the construction of a new sewer line and an influx of new businesses. The sewer line has not yet been connected to a sewer treatment plant, but Wehrheim said details of the plan to connect are coming soon.
“Since we first began the efforts, we’ve seen a full blown renaissance here in this quaint hamlet,” Wehrheim said. “Vacancies are down, values are up.
“People are strolling Lake Avenue again, kids are riding bikes to town again,” he continued. “With a great park to sit and relax in, maybe take in a live performance, paired with some homemade old fashioned ice cream just across the street from here … it sounds like a Norman Rockwell picture perfect day to me.”
Arts preservation efforts
For the Celebrate St. James Past-Present-Future cultural arts organization, which advocated for the park and raised $200,000 to fund its construction, the ribbon cutting ceremony offered a chance to galvanize donors who could further bolster the arts in St. James.
“Today, we will cut a ribbon to symbolically and actually turn a vision into reality – taking an eyesore in our community and transforming it into a place of pride for all – now and in the future,” said Natalie Weinstein, the founder of Celebrate St. James. “I will forever hold scenes in my mind of children playing here, teenagers gathering here, and people respectfully walking their dogs here. This park will tell our living history for generations to come.”
Celebrate St. James has more plans to “to drive economic growth through the cultural arts,” said Pat Clark, the president of Celebrate St. James.
The nonprofit envisions a vibrant art, music and live entertainment scene in St. James, for which they need a home. They hope to transform the defunct St. James Theater into this new cultural hub.
“There’s a historic gem, a building that is over 100 years old, just down the road, around the corner from Lake Avenue, on Second Street,” Clark said. “This impressive building was once the St. James Calderone Theatre, and in its earlier days, it was a stage theater. In fact, St James was once the go to destination for Vaudevillians, actors, songwriters and playwrights.
“We at Celebrate St James believe that we owe it to our town to keep its legacy alive,” she continued. “With your help, we can do that by purchasing and restoring the theater building to become the permanent home of the St. James Community Cultural Arts Center with a small theater and an outdoor plaza. So as we dedicate this beautiful park in our town today, I’m asking you all to open your hearts, and your imagination, and once again your wallets, for our vision to create a community cultural arts center.”
Top photo: Town of Smithtown officials, local community organizations, business owners and other members of the community gathered for the ribbon cutting for Celebrate Park.