Slow Down: The Hamptons is Roaring Ahead & We Need to Put on the Brakes

There are two places on the planet that are racing ahead economically and need to be slowed down before they become overheated and crash. One place is China. The other is the Hamptons. China has already begun tightening up money to slow things down. The Hamptons is a little slower off the mark.

Unlike China, they experienced a big drop in the economy in 2008. Now, four years later, things are beginning to surge. The first people to notice the tremors signaling this shift were the people with their ears to the ground this spring. It was apparent as early as April that traffic levels were picking up. Now, in June, there are tie-ups everywhere with some places backed up for miles again. The thundering herds are coming, is what those people said. And they have turned out to be right. One of the worst things about the Hamptons, these huge traffic jams, are back. And at least for now, everybody is in full applause mode.

The second big thing is all the building going on. There is more construction on more major institutions at the same time in the Hamptons at than at any time in the last half century. They include not only new construction but expansions and restorations. They are everywhere.

They include the Parrish Art Museum and the Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton, the Rogers House and the Bull’s Head Inn in Bridgehampton, the Bulova Watch Company factory in Sag Harbor, the children’s wing of the East Hampton Library, the complete restoration of the historic John Jermain Library in Sag Harbor, the restoration of the Thomas Moran House in East Hampton and the building of a multi-million dollar office building at the northwest corner of Bridgehampton in the same 19th century revival style as the Rogers House and the Bull’s Head Inn just across the street from it, both also under restoration.

The cost of each of these projects ranges from $5 million to $40 million. I am not including private residences. I am talking only of public institutions and office buildings.

This is an extraordinary amount of work to be going on at one time here in the Hamptons. And all of it is either under construction or about to break ground. Many projects will result in the elimination of eyesores that have stood in this community for half a century or more. The activity level rivals that of Wuhan City in China’s Hubei Province.

In Southampton, the Parrish Art Museum is building a $26.2 million new home right on the Montauk Highway east of that town. It is expected to be finished this autumn. It will house and have on display for the first time their unparalleled collection of valuable paintings that until now have had to be stored in climate controlled basement rooms. Almost no one in the last two generations has seen this collection. The work could not be displayed in the old Parrish Art Museum on Jobs Lane because it was too small to house it, and because there was neither climate control nor security on the main floor. Shortly you will see works by Jackson Pollock, Willem deKooning, Fairfield Porter, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, William Marritt Chase, Esteban Vincente and Lee Krasner that have been unavailable until now.

The other large construction underway in Southampton is the enlargement of the Greek Orthodox Church on St. Andrews Road. The construction of its new and larger dome and church to accommodate their larger membership is visible to motorists and passersby on County Road 39.

Perhaps the most dramatic construction of them all—with the possible exception of the new Parrish—is the virtually complete transformation of the very center of town of Bridgehampton surrounding the Founders Memorial there.

For half a century or more, this crossroads has looked like a slum. On one corner was a falling-down beverage barn that had moved into a former gas station. On another corner was a giant mansion with columns out front that was in great disrepair and for a long time had a gas station on its front lawn, on another corner was the nearly abandoned but historic Bull’s Head Inn, usually with an antique shop on the ground floor and with the upper floors not in use. Only the fourth corner, a group of two-story white stucco stores was being kept up.

On the first corner, the beverage barn building has been torn down and the builders should break ground any day now on a three-story office building built in the newly-constructed Greek revival inspired style, with columned porticos and a clock tower.

On the second corner, the Nathanial Rogers House is being entirely restored with its huge two and a half story columned porch out front and will soon be the new museum and home of the Bridgehampton Historical Society.

And on the third corner, developer and former corporate executive Bill Campbell is fully restoring the original three-story Bull’s Head Inn and barn out back and when he is finished, it will be a luxury inn, complete with a restaurant, pool and spa to be called the Topping Rose House.

In East Hampton last month, on Main Street, ground was broken on the new children’s wing of the East Hampton Library, a project of many millions of dollars that has been in the pre-construction phase for many years. And construction continues on Main Street further down the road on the reconstruction of one of the most beautiful mansions in town, the three-story high Victorian home of the celebrated turn of the century painter Thomas Moran, many of whose beautiful oil paintings of our national parks are in the Smithsonian.

There are two huge constructions going on in Sag Harbor. One involves building an addition to and doing a full restoration of the 1910 John Jermain Library, including the reconstruction of its magnificent glass and iron dome at a cost of about $10 million.

The other project is, finally, the restoration of the largest building in Sag Harbor, the four-story former Bulova Watchcase Factory. The factory, built in 1881, has been an abandoned eyesore in that town for nearly half a century. Now it will be condominiums with a magnificent view of the harbor and downtown.

All of these projects are behind chain link fences and covered with canvas and scaffolding with workmen in hard hats all over the place.

And eventually, the entire length of the Montauk Highway is expected to be repaved by the State (with the next project to be completed between Stephen Hands Path and 114). By that time, all these projects will be completed and so driving to one or another of them will be possible on a beautiful new road.

One hopes that as these projects wind down, there are no new ones to come along for awhile. We also hope that the reputation this community has as the country’s premiere high class resort will settle down. Perhaps we ought to ban the making of new movies here for a couple of years. We, like the Chinese, need to pause and take a breath. Otherwise our economy may overheat and crash back down to where the rest of the country is today.

And we can’t have that, can we?

BACK TO Dan Rattiner's Stories