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Hamptons Classic Panel Tackles Wild Horse Issue

From left to right are Moses Brings Plenty and Manda Kalimian, both of the CANA Foundation, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), author Roberto Dutesco, and equestrian show jumping rider Kelli Cruciotti at the First Annual Hampton Classic Legislative Panel. Photo by Jeff Berman.

Equine advocates and elected officials from both sides of the aisle recently joined forces on Long Island to brainstorm how best to address the crisis facing America’s wild horse population in the West.

The CANA Foundation, an East Norwich-based nonprofit horse rescue organization, sponsored the First Annual Hampton Classic Legislative Panel on the topic September 1, the last day of the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, to raise awareness of the issue.

“This is really an issue of horses and habitat and humanity,” said former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), CANA advisor and panel moderator. “This is a good example of one of the bipartisan elements that exist in Congress right now – and that is Democrats and Republicans working together to protect horses, to protect our heritage.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that there are 47,683 wild horses and burros in captivity as of August 2018; most of those animals are on pastures. Polls show 80 percent of Americans oppose either euthanizing or sterilizing the animals. Opinions vary about how to best manage the horses, which advocates say have been driven from their native rangelands by the oil industry and agricultural interests.

“We believe rewilding is the answer to many environmental problems … and to the wild horse crisis,” said CANA founder Manda Kalimian, who defines rewilding as “putting things back to the original state of being.”

Related Story: Long Island Advocates Bridle Over Trump Plan to Euthanize Mustangs

The group is seeking people willing to adopt wild horses and “find lands to rewild,” she told attendees. The group is “cautiously optimistic” that Suffolk County legislators may help them place wild horses on the North Fork, she told the Press.

“This is something we have to work together on,” said U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). “There may not always be easy answers. But the main goal should be to preserve and protect as much as possible when it comes to wildlife and wild horses.”

“Horses saved my life,” said Moses Brings Plenty, an actor and CANA advocate who was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Now, he’s looking to return the favor.

Also on the panel was author Roberto Dutesco, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.); and equestrian show jumping rider Kelli Cruciotti.

CANA Foundation is recruiting volunteers and donors for its #RewildOurWorld movement. More info can be found at canafoundation.org.

Deirdre O’Connell: Long Island’s Top Realtor

Deidre OConnell, CEO of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. Photo by Matthew Kropp.

As CEO of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, Deirdre O’Connell has played a key role in its success and the development of strategic initiatives and goals for the future as the company approaches its 100th year in business. O’Connell oversees the sales management of a $3.3 billion organization that has 950 sales associates in 26 offices spanning Nassau, Suffolk and Queens, with another location opening soon. She has also been instrumental in the company’s growth and expansion over the past decade. We recently caught up with O’Connell to get her take on what makes her company and the Long Island market so unique, and how her family and growing up here have helped her achieve success. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

What is your company’s mission? Our sales associates are trained, experienced and committed to diligence, discretion and luxury service. All are well versed in our philosophy of caring service and strictly adhering to the company’s code of ethics, with genuine knowledge of the local communities, as well as unequaled skills in the arts of marketing and negotiation.

What do you like most about your job? While our traditions of service, integrity, professionalism and always doing the right thing will forever be at the heart of our organization, with our 100th birthday approaching, it’s critical to our success to demonstrate to today’s market that we are 100 years young and reflective of today’s sellers and homebuyers.

How did you get started in realty? I got my first taste of real estate doing public relations for the real estate department of a large insurance company (MetLife.) I had two children at the time and wanted to be in more control of my career, so I went to work at Thomas O’Connell and Sons, a real estate company in Manhasset owned by my husband’s uncle.

How significant is the Long Island market for your company? While we are a Sotheby’s International realty affiliate with sister offices around the world, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International is owned and operated right here on Long Island. We opened our first office in 1922 in Huntington. Long Island has the best of the world right here.

What specific challenges are present in the Long Island market? One of the largest problems in the Long Island real estate market today is [that] buyers, regardless of generation, are looking for homes that are completely done, smaller in size with smaller yards, and convenient to town and transportation. Our agents are, therefore, working very hard with sellers of larger homes on multiple acres to price the properties appropriately, stage them to attract today’s buyers and market them with professional photos and video on digital and social media platforms.

How much of an impact did growing up on Long Island have on your worldview? I grew up on the North Fork of Long Island in the small town of New Suffolk. My mother taught me entrepreneurship, hard work, love of family. Born in Ireland, my mother came to the states at 18. She married, had five children and began a pie-baking business, in peak season selling over 100 pies at a farm stand. We all helped — peeling, chopping, mixing, labeling and other tasks. Later, both my parents opened a specialty market and deli in Cutchogue and that is where I learned from my father the significance of quality versus quantity and concierge customer service. Our store provided only the highest-quality meats, cheeses and specialty items and we were all trained to engage with all customers in a professional, warm manner, which included carrying bags to cars, delivery to homes and always smiling.

What philanthropic effort have you been most proud of? Every October, each of our offices becomes a coat drive drop-off, collecting hundreds of coats to be donated to the local charity with the greatest need in each market. Then, in the spring, we sponsor a Dress for Success month and collect professional clothes for men and women. Our company, agents and employees love Long Island and want to help our fellow Long Islanders.

Do you have any sayings? Kent Gale had a saying, “Do the right thing,” and Pat Petersen, our chairman and president, continued to build the company around that saying. At our company meeting in February, when I was announced as CEO, we unveiled our new company campaign, “Your Way Forward.” I believe in our deep, strong roots of luxury, professionalism and doing the right thing and I will always bring those values forward as this very special Long Island company continues to grow.

Roger Tilles: The Importance of Education

Roger Tilles represents Long Island on the New York State Board of Regents and generously gives to the arts. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

Elected three times as a Regent on the New York State Board of Regents, Roger Tilles has been representing Long Island’s educational interests since April 2005. He also serves as a patron of the arts in our area. After serving as director of his family’s investment company, he retired to focus on philanthropic and educational initiatives, such as creating the Long Island Arts Alliance and his involvement with the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post. We recently caught up with Tilles to discuss his work and charities.

Why is philanthropy important to you? I believe my religious upbringing was important to my understanding of giving back as an adult. I’ve been involved since I was 5 years old in different kinds of philanthropy. It’s very important for our family to be able to not just write a check, but to get involved. Why are the arts so important to you? Without the arts, I’m not sure I would be as aware of the world, as good a citizen, as good a person, because I wouldn’t be complete. The arts have really enabled me to express things and to hear things that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Have you taken part in the arts? I got involved with my introduction to music, [was] very active in the glee club, started a barber shop quartet and then my singing got me into Amherst College. When I went to law school, I became an usher at the May Festival in Ann Arbor, which was the Philadelphia Orchestra. The music moved me so tremendously that I became passionate about the kinds of music I listen to, not just perform.

What do you like most about representing LI on the Board of Regents? It gives me an opportunity to be active in schools and libraries and museums and higher education. As a result, I get to meet fantastic people – wonderful people – in education at all levels and I get to enhance my own ability and love of the arts because I’m chair of the Cultural [Education] Committee. One of the goals that I’ve had that I think has been successful is to bring the arts and the culture of New York State into the public schools.

What is your goal for the LI Arts Alliance? We wanted to highlight and have all our arts institutions collaborate with each other, cooperate with each other, market together and create education opportunities, which is what the Long Island Scholar-Artist [program] is.

What philanthropic effort are you most proud of? I started an organization 31 years ago with Monsignor Tom Hartman – Father Tom. We both realized that we grew up in pretty much unique ethnic communities. He was in an Irish Catholic community in East Williston and I was in the Jewish community of Great Neck. And it wasn’t until we went to college that we met many people of another faith. By then, it was us and them or we and they. We said, “Let’s try to do something earlier.” We started a program called Project Understanding, which just now finished its 30th year of taking Catholic and Jewish kids to do projects together on Long Island … and then sending them for almost two weeks to Israel.

Do you have any sayings? Growing up, somebody told me, “Do the best you can with what you have. And you don’t wish you had more. You just take what you have, and you do the best you can with it.” I found that that has been very successful for me in terms of getting things done and not just wishing for things.

You were quoted earlier this year referring to the Hempstead school district as “a zoo.” Do you regret that? I used the term in its general usage, which is a chaotic kind of place. Although some people took offense and said that I equated people in the district with certain animals in the zoo, I have gotten a lot of support from the black leadership in the community and across the state from people who said that they’re way off base if anybody calls me a racist because I have exhibited a great deal of time, energy and productivity in race relations. But also, jokingly, I could say, “Well, I should have probably called it a circus instead.” But then the clowns would have been offended.

Muttontown Voters Elect New Village Board After Scandal, Red Tape Complaints

From left to right are the Muttontown village board’s new members: trustee Brian Fagen; James Liguori, who won the mayorship; plus trustees Dr. Sudha Prasad and Chris Economou

Village of Muttontown residents frustrated with questions raised about the outgoing administration’s impact on quality of life in the tony community voted June 19 to elect a new mayor and three newcomers to the Board of Trustees that he will head.

The majority of incumbents were unseated in a landslide. The victory came amid allegations of attempted voter suppression by village officials.

Nassau County prosecutors “were alerted that voters were allegedly being denied the opportunity to cast ballots in the Muttontown elections,” says Brendan Brosh, spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

Before the vote, Muttontown homeowners shared stories of costly bureaucratic nightmares they and neighbors faced when trying to build on, repair, or sell their properties.

“We have tried to comply with the building department comment letters, but their requests are ever changing due to their code interpretations,” says Susan Dasilva, whose home has been without a certificate of occupancy (CO) since January 2014. “These changes are costing excessive amounts of money in professional fees and making it next to impossible to complete the final steps to get my CO.”

Another Muttontown resident, who wanted to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal from the village, says it took him more than a year just to get a permit for a generator and he knows residents who have waited even longer for the same thing. He argues that a generator should be treated as an emergency need.

“The permit fee structure is much higher than any other local village,” he says, adding that “a lot of architects don’t want to work in the village” because it’s so hard to get projects approved.

Other Muttontowners who have tried to get building permits for their homes report that it’s taken up to four years. The aggravation has made it harder to sell homes in the otherwise sought-after community. A real estate broker who asked to remain anonymous says it’s especially hard to sell homes there that need a lot of work.

“I had one homeowner who said to me they were given a list of 20 items” that had to be addressed before work could be done on a home and “they got everything cleared up and then there was another 25 items that came back.”

Several builders and investors she knows “won’t even go into Muttontown,” she adds. The issues crescendoed ahead of the election.

Playing a key role in that uproar was the recently formed group Neighbors for a Better Muttontown led by a group of political newcomers seeking change, including Dr. Jim Liguori, who beat village trustee Julie Albernas to become the new mayor and replace outgoing mayor Julianne Beckerman, who opted to not seek reelection. Albernas, Beckerman and the other trustees didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Beckerman and her husband were arrested last year for allegedly failing to pay their income taxes for the past five years. Beckerman and her husband pleaded not guilty to tax fraud and repeated failure to file personal income and earnings taxes.

Running with Liguori to serve as trustees were Chris Economou, Brian Fagen and Dr. Sudha Prasad. Fagen, an attorney and an associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman, expressed the same frustration as the other homeowners.

Other localities require permits, “but very few municipalities, when you apply for a permit, look for other things that you did that weren’t permitted… They’re actively looking to find violations – whether they occurred while you had title to the property or before,” he says.

Fagen chalks up the excessive red tape to an “inability to find other ways to cut expenses and raise revenue, and the low-hanging fruit is the people that are doing work on their homes and that’s what they grab at.” He vowed to fix the problem so that “Muttontown can be the great place it was.”

Liguori received 1,077 votes compared to only 315 for his rival. Trustee victors Economou, Fagen and Prasad received 1,054; 1,056; and 1,069 votes each, respectively, while their rivals each received under 340 votes.

Liguori told us he was “thrilled that the village overwhelmingly decided to give myself and my trustees an opportunity” to lead the village.

“Goal number one is fixing the building department/permitting process,” he says.

Linda Armyn: Community Outreach is Key

Linda Armyn is the face of Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s many philanthropic efforts.

As senior vice president of corporate affairs at Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Linda Armyn has played a key role not only in spearheading efforts to make it the largest credit union in New York State, but also in developing some of the organization’s most popular community outreach initiatives and branding campaigns. Among the most visible of those branding initiatives is the annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, held each Memorial Day weekend. We recently caught up with Armyn to discuss her philanthropic and community outreach initiatives.

Can you explain why philanthropy is important to you? I believe when one person needs help, those who can help should, and it all comes around in the span of our lifetimes. As a cooperative credit union, Bethpage has always operated under the promise of people helping people. Our vision is to enrich the lives of our members, employees and communities we serve. If we are doing business in a community, giving back is an important piece of our business model.

Can you tell us about the Heart of Bethpage philanthropic effort? Heart of Bethpage started in 2003 as a community-wide program. This program has grown significantly over the years. Under it, we provide financial grants for programs, volunteer hours, community-based sponsorships, and we also host various collections throughout the years for food, clothes, toys and pet food. The impact has been great. We have donated millions of dollars and volunteered thousands of hours. It serves as a source of pride for our team. We recently renamed the program Bethpage Cares.

What made you start the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program? We have been participating in the IRS VITA program for more than 15 years. [Bethpage volunteers have prepared] close to $20 million in returns [to date for low income Long Islanders]. It is the largest program of its kind on Long Island and we partner with community organizations, libraries, labor unions and colleges to make it happen. This is a tremendous volunteer effort, with 150 volunteers preparing taxes for low-income families for free each year. In the last five years, we have processed more than $2 million in tax returns, helping approximately 2,400 families. This puts more money back into the people’s hands to save or spend locally rather than in fees to tax preparers.

What philanthropic effort are you most proud of and why? One of the efforts I love is our Turkey Drive with Island Harvest that has benefited thousands of families for what will be 10 years on Nov. 16. The whole credit union participates, either by bringing food or volunteering. We have many companies who participate by bringing food and donating money each year. We also have Girl Scouts all over the Island collecting, as well as local middle school, high school and college students who come to lend a hand. It’s a true community effort.

Do you have any sayings? “Keep it simple” and “Cool beans.” Everything today moves pretty fast and it’s really easy to overcomplicate things we do. So, lately, my mantra has been “Keep it simple.” I’ve been saying “cool beans” since I was a kid whenever something makes me smile. It has stuck with me and it seems to make others smile too. Probably because it’s a bit hokey.

Is there anything I should have asked but didn’t? I am enthusiastic about our community programs because I hope to also serve as a role model for others, especially kids. My kids have participated in many of our efforts and they bring their friends along too. They now are involved in their own projects and that makes me happy and proud.

Heritage Farm & Garden: Greening Long Island

Heritage Farm & Garden

The Dubner family’s half-century-deep roots in the local horticultural industry grew deeper last year when they opened Heritage Farm & Garden, allowing their passion to blossom in the retail garden center market.

The 42-acre store in Muttontown is run by Wendy Dubner Master, daughter of Long Island landscaping and nursery industry veteran Steven Dubner — both of whom pursued careers in law before plowing ahead with the family business.

“When I started the landscape business, it was purely a vehicle to help me pay for college and law school,” Steven says. “Once I was a member of the New York State Bar, I said to myself, ‘I will just keep the landscaping business two more years.’ And here I am still doing it. I get to live my passion.”

Steven founded the eponymous Steven Dubner Landscaping, Inc., 52 years ago, Northeast Nurseries in Cutchogue three decades ago and Metro Green Visions, which shares Dix Hills office space with his landscaping company, about eight years ago.

Last year, the family bought Martin Viette Nurseries, which closed after 87 years, and opened Heritage, which boasts an impressive selection of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and more — including Wendy’s acclaimed pottery designs. Prior to opening Heritage, Wendy worked in the industry for over 25 years, designing  pottery and home décor, as well as consulting with many national retailers providing trend direction.

The family, while being reluctant to publicize it, has always been heavily involved in philanthropy.  Steven started a local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America troop for kids with Down syndrome and learning disabilities, created a children’s garden at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove and most recently, the Center for Developmental Disabilities in Woodbury recruited Heritage to form an educational program for some of its 5 to 21-year-old students with learning disabilities.

Wendy will help, but her mother, Candy, will oversee the program for Heritage and handle most interaction with the students, Wendy says, adding that it represents a way to “use the facilities and location here to do something good for people in the community,” which is “one of our goals.”

It’s just another example of how this family is making the Island more beautiful.

Heritage Farm & Garden is located at 6050 Northern Blvd., in Muttontown. They can be reached at 516-922-1026 or heritagefarmandgarden.com.

Wendy and Stephen Dubner opened Heritage Farm & Garden last year.

Long Island Country Club Sales Upswing

Multiple independent Long Island country clubs were sold off to corporations in the past year as part of a growing trend that may continue due to the factors of changing demographics and increased competition.

In October, the Muttontown Club in East Norwich was acquired by Concert Golf Partners, according to Peter Nanula, a spokesman for the corporation. Just days before that, in September, the board of directors at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor voted to sell its assets—including its 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, pool and clubhouse—to RXR Realty, the largest commercial real estate owner on LI, which plans to keep the club open but signaled that it plans to develop part of the 210-acre property. That news came five months after Weiss Properties and 2020 Acquisitions bought the 109-year-old Woodmere Club in Woodmere.

The purchase of the Muttontown Club was part of a recapitalization deal, unanimously approved by the club’s board of directors and by a 96-3 vote of its members, under which Concert Golf paid off the club’s debt, lowered equity member dues and infused $1 million into the club. according to the corporation. Not clear was the purchase price.

“Terms were confidential,” Nanula says.

An update on the Engineers deal wasn’t available and RXR declined to comment for this story. Before those three transactions, in 2015, the 125-acre Cedarbrook Club in Old Brookville was put up for sale, the 107-acre Woodcrest Country Club in Muttontown sold for $19 million in 2010 and the North Shore Country Club in Glen Head was purchased for $12.5 million in 2009.

Also in negotiations for sale and partial development was the 168-acre Cold Spring Country Club. Matt Tucker, that club’s general manager, declined to comment.

A deal to acquire Cedarbrook Club fell through early this year, according to David Rafiy, its director.

“We’re looking to build up the membership and catering business, and we’ll consider other alternatives as well,” he says, noting that membership is “up significantly.”

Driving the issue is the fact that many younger parents don’t have much time to play golf, the number of courses has expanded, especially on LI — where private clubs now compete with new, “high-end” municipal courses — and certain clubs have rising debt and declining membership, Rafiy says.

“They had high standards, spent a lot of money on renovations and they had big loans,” he says. “Rather than continue to pass along the deficits to their members, they decided to sell.”

One bright spot is that the number of people interested in golf seems to be “on the upswing,” he says.

Although he expects the number of local country clubs being put up
for sale will “level off,” he predicts “there are probably a few more clubs that will change hands.”

While member-owned Pine Hollow Country Club in East Norwich is flourishing as a “fullservice, family centric country club” with amenities including an Olympic-size pool, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course, “a lot of other clubs are kind of going into the golf club” business and moving away from “top-level service” to save money, says Brian Lau, general manager.

Others trying to maintain high-end services are drastically slashing membership fees to be more competitive with other local clubs — “a slippery slope” because they’re “bringing [members] in at substantially less revenue,” he says. “That equation just doesn’t work.”

It also remains to be seen how clubs that were once member-owned will fare now after being bought out by corporations that start making all the decisions, he says. Experts say they must figure out ways to attract younger members to survive.

“The cost of living is going up substantially on Long Island,” he says. “Everything is going up. So, it’s really, really, really tough for young families to join a country club.”

First Champkids Coloring & Drawing Competition a Success

Kexin Su creates free form art concepts for consideration for prizes withthe Champkids competition at the Children's Museum on Saturday night (Photo by Joe Abate).

Kindergarten to 12th-grade students from throughout Nassau, Suffolk and Queens turned out to compete in the first Champkids Coloring & Drawing Competition May 12 at the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City.

Champkids is a Great Neck-based company that’s out to foster creativity and competition in children and teenagers by giving budding young artists an outlet for their nascent talents. It was started early this year by Fenella Kim, an electric power engineer who also founded and serves as the CEO and president of Reliance Star Payment Services, a credit card processing company also based in Great Neck. Kim was “inspired” to start Champkids by her 10-year-old daughter, Allena, who serves as its “chief inspiration officer,” Fenella says.

“She loves to draw and color – just like when I was little,” Fenella says, noting her daughter decided to enter art competitions at age eight.

But there was one problem.

“Most of the competition was mail-in,” where you create the artwork at home and then send it in, Fenella explains, adding that, instead of finding out right away who the winners are, “days and weeks go by and we never hear the results.”

Allena’s experience prompted Fenella to tell her daughter about the more than 200 art competitions she had participated in when growing up, when she had the opportunity to face off against other kids in person and, importantly, didn’t have to wait long to find out if she won or not.

“I was never athletic,” Fenella says, noting the art competitions allowed her to build up confidence and some of the same skills and competitiveness that young athletes get from sports, and played a role in the success she’s had.

Fenella is hoping that her daughter and youngsters who participate in Champkids events can benefit the same way she did from art competition, she says, noting she went on to start her first business – tutoring – at only 14, became a graduate of the Harvard Business School Executive program, and then started Reliance at 23.

“I like that the awards are live on the stage,” Allena says, pointing out she had to wait about six months to find out if she won one mail-in art competition last year.

View photo gallery to see winners. Photos by Joe Abate.

(lt to rt) Yash Patel and Rowan DeJean work at a table together to create art for prizes in the Champskids competition on Saturday night.

Picture 1 of 21

Local experts who volunteered to judge the first competition included Michelle Palatnik, 28, who teaches art at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn and the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills, and also has her own art studio in Huntington.

“Fenella approached me” to participate in the event and “it was a very interesting idea,” Palatnik says. The challenge for her in judging the competition was being fair, while also considering the young age of the participants, she concedes.

Competitors included Haley Singh, a 10-year-old fifth grader from Roslyn, who says she has already taken part in art competitions at school before this. But the Champkids event has given her the opportunity to face off against strangers for the first time, she says.

“I’m hoping to win,” but if she doesn’t, then at least “I tried,” she says with a shrug.
While the first Champkids event focused on individual competition, “in the future, we plan to do it in groups… maybe a team of four,” possibly including family members, Fenella says.

Next up is a second Champkids art competition June 16 at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. Registration will start at 10 a.m. and the event will cost $30 to compete, including aquarium admission. The drawing competition will start at 2 p.m. and end at 5 p.m., with awards presentation planned for 4 p.m.

Fenella is also looking to “set up a scholarship fund, so we can give back to the kids,” she says, adding she’s hoping to eventually expand the competition to the point that it can be held locally at Nassau Coliseum and even rolled out nationally. Champkids is looking for any art organizations interested in partnering with it.

Those interested can call Champkids at 1-888-699-0828. Sponsors of the May 12 competition included Long Island Press and Schneps Communications Events.

Low Commercial Vacancies Persist on Long Island

Commercial real estate vacancy rates on Long Island ended 2017 below the historical average for the region and little has changed so far this year, according to local realtors and data providers.

Nassau/Suffolk industrial vacancies are still at 3.1 percent, office vacancies remain at 7.1 percent and retail vacancies have dropped from 4.4 percent to 4.3 percent, according to CoStar, a commercial real estate information provider. The most noticeable shift is in the retail sector, where brick-and-mortar stores are adapting to the rise in online shopping.

“Retailers are closing their stores and doing much more business online,” says Ron Koenigsberg, a broker and president of Garden City-based commercial real estate company American Investment Properties. “They are increasingly purchasing and renting warehouse space to use as distribution centers.”

Office space vacancy is “down significantly from the 19 percent it once was not that long ago,” says Mario Asaro, a broker and president of Melville-based commercial real estate company Investment One. On the other hand, retail vacancy rates “seem to be climbing due to e-commerce,” he says.

“The malls will have to become entertainment and recreational-minded to attract shoppers,” Asaro predicts.

Jeffrey Pliskin, CEO at Garden City-based Pliskin Realty And Development, notes that while he’s been busier, clients have been signing leases for smaller spaces.

“They realize they don’t need as much,” Pliskin says.

As for the industrial and office markets, Koenigsberg says he’s “expecting to see an increase in rental rates and a decrease in vacancy rates for both sectors.”

Total commercial sales inventory seems to have increased within the past year, he adds.

“Many of our clients were waiting to see how the political environment and tax reform would affect their investment properties,” he says. “Now that some of those questions have been answered, clients are making better informed decisions on whether they will like to sell their properties.”

The “changing landscape” he’s seeing is “primarily because of the transition in the retail market,” he says. One strong positive is that there are “many new businesses buying properties” on LI, he says.

Although Toys “R” Us is closing all its stores and Sears continues to close stores, other large players are expanding, he notes, pointing to Amazon-owned Whole Foods announcing that it’s moving forward with plans to open two more stores, in Garden City and Commack.

James Metzger: Winning In Sports and Business

James C. Metzger is as well known for his philanthropy as he is for leading the Whitmore Group.

As chairman and CEO of Garden City-based Whitmore Group, James C. Metzger has guided the privately held company that he started in 1989 into becoming one of the most successful independent insurance brokerage and financial services firms in the region. We recently caught up with him to get his take on technology and other trends impacting the insurance market, what sets the Whitmore Group apart from its rivals, and how sports have played a key role in his youth and career. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Long Island Press: What would you say sets the Whitmore Group apart from other insurance companies?

James C. Metzger: By virtue of building the company over 30 years, the premium volume that we have with our carriers – both in terms of the number of carriers we represent and the premium volume that we have developed with those carriers – gives us underwriting advantages and underwriting leverage with those markets.

LIP: What is your vision for the company amid the challenges faced by your industry?

JM: I feel like we’ve kind of figured out over 30 years how to be really good at what we do, and to achieve critical mass with the insurance companies and to develop a lot of trust and confidence with our carriers. And what has helped us achieve that is making strategic acquisitions, over the last 10 years in particular, of smaller agencies. We’re still a privately held firm and one of the relatively few left of our size that have maintained our independence.

LIP: Can you specify how technology may be a disruptor?

JM: I have strongly considered how self-driving cars will impact the automobile side of our business. That’s a real concern. Algorithms and robotical [technology also]. Let’s face it. We saw what happened to travel agencies a long time ago. The role of the advisor and the role of the consultant, I think, will always be important in the insurance industry.

LIP: When you say some are buying insurance directly from rivals, would I be correct to guess some of that is being done online?

JM: Sure. I think life insurance is probably bought online more frequently and in a bigger way than property and casualty. Life insurance and automobile insurance, I think, we’ve certainly seen competition that way. Those verticals within the insurance industry have taken a pretty big bite out of the apple.

LIP: You were a lacrosse All-American at Hofstra University and played lacrosse and football at Half Hollow Hills High School. How do you incorporate those interests into your career?

JM: I think a win is a win – whether you’re vying for an account and you win the account or you win a lacrosse game or a football game. And you don’t always win. There’s always a guy bigger, faster or stronger, and you learn how to compete. And I think you can learn a lot from losing as well, not just winning. Sometimes you can learn more from losing than winning because you have to address possibly weaknesses or areas that require improvement.

LIP: Philanthropy in general is very important for you. Can you explain why and how you select which organizations to support?

JM: Many of our clients will approach us with their philanthropy or the causes in which they’re involved, or the charities and foundations that they support. I believe in supporting academia on Long Island. I have become involved with the Arthritis Foundation, the American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, to name a few. It is a win-win-win situation. We’re able to support the community and enhance and bolster our brand in the community as well, and sometimes support our client.

LIP: How much of an impact did growing up on Long Island have on your worldview and success?

JM: I think I had a lot of advantages. I was extremely fortunate that I grew up where I did. I think it had a great impact on my business career too because our school district was terrific from an academic standpoint and  my experiences as a student athlete.

LIP: What would readers be surprised to learn about you?

JM: People will laugh if you write this and they read it, but I’m really a humble person. I’m around a lot of people often, but I really relish time that I can spend alone, reading and being reflective, and I have a lot of interests away from the business.