Stony Brook University (SBU) has failed to keep its commitments as stewards of the Southampton campus, according to allegations from New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who called the university “the biggest slumlord on the East End.”
At the center of Thiele’s frustration is that the university has allowed the iconic Southampton Hall, a Grosvenor Atterbury-designed building at the center of the campus, to languish.
In 2006, the State University of New York acquired Southampton College-Long Island University, a transaction that Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle largely facilitated.
“Since then, Stony Brook University has had a checkered record as the steward of the campus,” Thiele said in a press release issued last week.
Stony Brook University abandoned a fledging undergraduate sustainability program at the campus in 2009, in an attempt to close the campus. Thiele and Southampton students successfully sued Stony Brook University, which led to efforts to grow programming at the graduate center.
“At that time, the university put Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Matthew Whelan in charge for planning at the campus,” Thiele says. “During his tenure, we saw sustained progress at the campus, including the construction of the new Marines Sciences Building and the establishment of several graduate health sciences programs at Southampton. Coupled with the continued growth of the well-established Fine Arts Program at the campus under the leadership of Robert Reeves, enrollment for the campus grew to 800 students per year at Southampton.”
After Southampton Hospital became affiliated with Stony Brook University Hospital, plans came into focus to build a new state-of-the-art hospital at the campus.
“The future of the campus was bright,” Thiele said.
SBU was then supposed to renovate Southampton Hall, an architecturally significant building designed by Atterbury, an innovative architect whose work included many weekend homes for wealthy industrialists on the East End (His family spent summers on an 80-acre state nearby in Shinnecock Hills.)
Sited at the top of the hill at the center of campus, it has long served as an anchor for campus activities and had been the main administrative building at Southampton College-LIU.
When it was announced in 2018, the plan was for the newly established Lichtenstein Center to be based there as a premier cultural institution, as well as many other programs and conferences.
SBU committed $5 million in capital to Southampton Hall. The architectural firm Marble Fairbanks submitted the winning design after a global search process and, in 2019, the firm produced a comprehensive feasibility study for $200,000.
Yet, nothing has occurred since the study. Thiele says there is no long-term plan in place.
Instead, Southampton Hall has fallen into further disrepair and has since been condemned.
Thiele says that last summer both he and State Senator Anthony Palumbo urged University President Maurie D. McInnis to seek funding for Southampton Hall from the $350 million Long Island Investment Fund, created by the State Legislature for the 2022-23 state budget to focus on large-scale, transformative projects that would have lasting impacts for Long Island.
“Our top priority on the East End for LIIF funding is the renovation of Southampton Hall on the Stony Brook Southampton campus,” Thiele and Palumbo wrote at the time.
However, SBU did not apply for the funding, despite the officials’ urging in a letter, dated July 22, 2022.
“It is not an option to demolish such a significant structure,” the letter continued. “The renovation will only get more expensive with time. Current estimates of $20 million will only increase.”
The renovated building would host conferences and retreats and promote collaborative partnerships and professional development and “would play to the strengths of both the University and the region,” the letter said. “The potential of such activities to create economic opportunity and jobs is significant.”
“The Southampton campus can be one of Stony Brook University’s greatest assets. Yet, it is wasting away,” Thiele said in his statement last week.
“The University has had stewardship of the property for 17 years. Their lack of action over the last four years is inexcusable and can no longer be tolerated. Not only is Southampton Hall a potential economic engine for eastern Long Island as a center of arts and culture, but the abandoned residential dormitory complex possesses a great opportunity for community housing,” he continued.
Thiele is offering a solution. He has proposed a three-point plan that begins with the appointment of a senior executive member of the university administration to take responsibility for the campus. Secondly, the university has to come up with an immediate plan to renovate Southampton Hall, and, lastly, the establishment of a Comprehensive Plan Committee to develop a 5-year plan for the rest of the campus, including community housing opportunities where the dormitories are now located.
“Friends of the Southampton campus have waited long enough for Stony Brook University to fulfill its responsibility to Southampton. We will wait no longer,” he said.
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