11/05/13 7:49am
11/05/2013 7:49 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | (L-R) IDA executive director Tracy Stark-James takes notes as Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard and Barbara Schiano speak to the IDA board Monday night.

Plans to build a two-story tall indoor skydiving tunnel are a little bit closer to taking flight.

The proposal — a new building to house the unique attraction at Skydive Long Island in the Enterprise Park at Calverton — will be subject to a public hearing over requested tax incentives in December, after members of Riverhead’s Industrial Development Agency expressed support for the proposal, with one member of the board calling the plan a “home run.”

COURTESY PHOTO | People skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel.

COURTESY PHOTO | People skydiving in a wind tunnel.

“That’s a really great project,” said IDA executive director Tracy Stark-James at the board’s meeting Monday night in Riverhead Town Hall. “It’s truly a regional draw.”

Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard and Barbara Schiano, his wife, told the board their planned attraction would not only allow skydivers to practice jumps in a safe environment, but would also draw tens of thousands more into town during the typical skydiving off-season to experience the indoor wind tunnel — without having to get in a plane.

“There are many people who just go to these indoor wind tunnels to experience freefall who never go skydiving,” Ms. Schiano said.

Skydive Long Island would build a four-story tall building to house the 18-feet high, 14.5-foot wide vertical wind tunnel, which would use giant fans to lift customers into the air.

“It’s going to bring a lot more people to the town,” Mr. Maynard said, adding that the nearest indoor skydiving attractions were in New Hampshire and North Carolina.

Mr. Maynard also said that, while tunnels are used by professional skydivers to train, the general public could buy time inside the tunnel with an instructor in 2-minute blocks. Up to six experienced skydivers could use the tunnel for practicing formation diving.

The project — estimated to cost between $4.5 million to $5 million — would also feature glass running windows along the side of the tunnel, allowing onlookers to see in. It would take up to a year to build the structure, Ms. Schiano said.

Skydive Long Island — which has been in operation out of Calverton since 2000 — is asking for three types of tax incentives: a sales tax exemption, a mortgage tax exemption and a deal on its real property taxes, Ms. Stark-James said.

The sales tax exemption would apply to all construction material purchases, from building supplies to lighting fixtures for the new building.

Skydive Long Island has already secured partial funding for the project through the U.S. Small Business Administraiton, which doesn’t require mortgage tax to be paid. The local mortgage recording tax exemption would apply to the remainder not covered under the SBA and would eliminate the usual 1.05 percent tax.

The final incentive is to reduce the real property tax assessment, Ms. Stark-James said. The IDA’s standard property tax abatement reduces the assessed value of the new additions to the property by 50 percent. The property would gain an additional 5 percent on its assessed value each year until it hit the full 100 percent of its value, Ms. Stark-James said.

For example, if a property were worth $50,000 and another $10,000 in assessed value were added, the property’s abated assessed value would be $55,000 in the first year of the abatement, increasing by 5 percent each year until it reached the full $60,000.

While the 50 percent initial abatement is the typical IDA offer, Ms. Stark-James said Skydive Long Island was planning to request more of an abatement from the IDA. While board members didn’t reveal whether they would support the incentives, all expressed admiration for Mr. Maynard, a longtime local business owner.

The proposed incentives will be open for public comment at the IDA’s next meeting in early December. In the meantime, Ms. Schiano said the company is working on getting the necessary zoning permits to build the new attraction.

“This is going to be another iconic attraction [for Riverhead],” she said. “There’s nothing like it in the area.”

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09/16/13 8:00am
09/16/2013 8:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling sponsored Sunday's human bowling ball event to benefit Brendan House.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling sponsored Sunday’s human bowling ball event to benefit Brendan House.

Sound Beach resident Pawel Bistram really is Superman.

Wearing a shirt featuring the superhero’s iconic logo, he soared through the air Sunday afternoon in Calverton after jumping out of an airplane. He then turned himself into a “human bowling ball” and struck a bunch of novelty-sized inflatable pins, knocking them all down with his body.

He was the only person to have a strike at the area’s first-ever human bowling ball event. The fundraiser was sponsored by Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling in Riverhead and benefits Brendan House, a group care facility planned for Riverhead.

“It was awesome,” Mr. Bistram said shortly after jumping. “I must have had perfect timing and the wind was just right.”

Fellow skydiver Domenick Gilio of Setauket also had a successful jump, leaving only two standing.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I tried to hit as many pins as possible with my body by spreading my legs as wide as I could.”

Nancy Reyer, whose 17-year-old son, Michael Hubbard, plans to move into Brendan House when it opens, attended the event and said she’s grateful for all the support from participants. The facility is estimated to open within the next four months.

“The community has been behind us 100 percent,” she said as her eyes teared up. “Everyone has been really good to us.”

Ms. Reyer said she plans to skydive for the first time on Michael’s 18th birthday Aug. 16 to raise additional funds for Brendan House.

Her son suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body after being burned by a gel candle that exploded in his backyard May 28, 2011. He went into cardiac arrest a week later, causing traumatic brain injury, as well as kidney failure and lung distress. Michael was originally taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center, but was moved to Blythedale that September.

Blythedale, a short-term care facility, could no longer keep Michael for the extended care he needs, his mother has said. It left her looking for other facilities.

In June, he moved to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead with much fanfare, an arrangement Ms. Reyer said she’s very pleased with.

“His physical therapy at PBMC is nothing but the best,” she said. “Michael was born there and was raised in Riverhead … Every day is a new day and he’s making progress.”

As for the unique fundraising idea, Ms. Reyer said one of her grade-school friends works at Skydive Long Island and had talked to the owners about holding a benefit there for Brendan House.

The timing was good because over the past six months Skydive and All-Star have been coming up with cross-promotional ideas and developing community fundraisers. Recently, the small business owners created a cocktail called LIV free or DIVE. It’s made with locally produced Long Island Spirits’ LIV vodka from Baiting Hollow.

All-Star co-owner Peter Sgroi said he’s happy to be a part of the area’s first human bowling ball event and described it as a fun way to help the community.

“It couldn’t be more perfect,” Mr. Sgroi said of Sunday’s fundraiser. “The turnout is great and the weather couldn’t be better.”

New Beginnings, a Medford nonprofit group that offers support for people with traumatic brain injuries and owns Brendan House, is holding a country fair Sept. 29 at Brendan House to raise funds for the facility. The event will include pig and duck races, music from the Boot Scoot Boogie Band, games, prizes and refreshments.

For more information, visit New Beginnings’ website nbli.org.

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06/10/13 8:00am
06/10/2013 8:00 AM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A skydiver lands in Calverton Sunday afternoon, where more than 40 people jumped out of planes to raise money for veterans mental health.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A skydiver lands in Calverton Sunday afternoon, where more than 40 people jumped out of planes to raise money for veterans mental health.

When decorated Korean War paratrooper John “Red” Pelan turned 77 in 2008, he had an unusual request for his family and friends. He wanted to jump out of a plane again.

Years after his successful birthday jump, more than 40 people carried on that tradition at Skydive Long Island in Calverton Sunday afternoon, leaping out of planes as part of “Reckless with Red,” an annual skydiving event that raises funds for mental health services for returning veterans.

The fundraiser, now in its sixth year, was named in honor of Mr. Pelan, who served with the 187th Infantry Regiment. Mr. Pelan, like many returning veterans, suffered the effects of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, event organizers said. The annual jump was founded to raise funds for the Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island, which works to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse issues.

More than 100 people joined the event this year, said organizer and frequent skydiver Rich Muscolino, including 42 tandem skydivers who raised money by having friends and family sponsor their jumps.

The event has raised more than $75,000 for the organization since it began; The event raised about $15,000 last year alone, and each year it gets bigger, Mr. Muscolino said.

“This year we might be in the running to beat that,” he said.

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06/06/13 5:00pm
06/06/2013 5:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | People skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel.

Afraid of heights but love a thrill, nonetheless?

Well, Skydive Long Island has a new plan in the works that involves skydiving without jumping out of a plane.

The company, based sine 2000 at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, plans to build a vertical wind tunnel on David Court property.

“There’s a thing called indoor skydiving,” said Ray Maynard, SkyDive Long Island’s owner. “You basically have fans blowing the air up at about 156 mph.”

People in the wind tunnel stand in a cylinder that’s about 14 feet high and 16 feet wide and are lifted off the ground and suspended in air by the giants fans, he explained.

“You feel what a free fall feels like without having to worry if your parachute is going to open up,” Mr. Maynard said.

Indoor skydiving is not weather-dependent, it’s a little safer than regular skydiving and children as young as 3 can do it, Mr. Maynard said, although he doesn’t plan to allow kids that young to participate.

He outlined his plan Monday to the Riverhead industrial Development Agency, as he expects to seek IDA tax incentives for the proposed facility.

The vertical wind tunnel would measure 100 by 100 feet and would rise four stories high, Mr. Maynard said and will cost about $4.5 million to $5 million. He plans to build it on the same EPCAL property where Skydive currently operates.

“People who skydive with me presently are driving to New Hampshire or North Carolina to do this, and are spending thousands of dollars a week to do so,” Mr. Maynard told the IDA. “We would be the first such facility in the New York area.”

The wind tunnel will probably double the amount of visitors SkyDive gets, Mr. Maynard said, in part because it can operate year-round, whereas sky diving takes place only between April and November.

He told the IDA board that between 20 and 40 employees would be required to operate and maintain the wind tunnel.

IDA members seemed receptive to the plan, although executive director Tracy Stark-James said the project would also need variances for height and setback distances from the Zoning Board of Appeals and a variance from the Conservation Advisory Committee for being within 150 feet of a wetland.

IDA members said they expect to hold a public hearing on the request for tax abatements sometime in September. The IDA can give tax abatements for mortgage recording tax, sales tax on building supplies and on the assessed value increase of the improvements to the property.

Mr. Maynard said it would probably take about nine months to build the wind tunnel.

“Do you think you might have a zip line too?” IDA member Paul Thompson asked, jokingly referring to a recent proposal to put a zip line along the Peconic River in downtown Riverhead.

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07/26/12 3:22pm
07/26/2012 3:22 PM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Amber Gandolfo (center) is brought down safely by Manorville firefighters after she and her skydiving instructor (right) became trapped in a tree.

While Amber Gandolfo and her tandem skydiving instructor floated back down to Earth hundreds of feet above the ground Tuesday afternoon, the pair started making small talk. Ms. Gandolfo, a first-time skydiver, told her instructor she would definitely jump again.

Then, she said, the wind picked up.

“We were talking and having conversation up there, and all of a sudden he got quiet and I realized we weren’t where we were supposed to be,” Ms. Gandolfo said. “He did his best to get us over grassy areas … [but] every time we got to a good area, the wind pushed us somewhere else.”

The pair were rescued from a tree in Calverton Tuesday evening after they were blown off course by sudden gusting winds and became entangled in the tree’s branches dozens of feet off the ground.

Ms. Gandolfo, a 25-year-old Massapequa Park native, said she decided to go skydiving with Skydive Long Island to join her boyfriend, who jumps “a few times in the summer.”

[Another jumper recounts his story of being blown off course]

She was nervous in the plane during the trip up, but said the freefall was “exhilarating.”

“You feel like you’re being pushed upwards, like you’re fighting the air,” she said.

Then, after the two deployed their parachutes, the wind blew them into the tree.

“We hit the tree going 20-30 miles an hour and I’m lucky enough to not have any broken bones,” she said. “I am lucky.”

Ms. Gandolfo only suffered minor scratches from the collision.

Four other tandem teams were also blown off course by the sudden storm, said Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard. Mr. Maynard said he noticed the wind suddenly pick up, but was too late to stop the teams from jumping.

Manorville firefighters arrived on the scene about 6:30 p.m. and worked to cut away branches to free the pair.

“The scariest part was after the impact with the tree, and you don’t know if you’re going to fall,” Ms. Gandolfo said. “The tree wasn’t very sturdy, we were definitely blowing in the wind.” She said the pair tried to keep things lighthearted, and were joking around to keep calm.

The two were smiling as they were lowered back to safety, but when Ms. Gandolfo made it back to the ground, she became emotional and cried.

“It was a wave of relief,” she said. “It wasn’t an ideal landing, but I made it back to the ground in one piece,”

Her mother, Susan, said she heard about what happened when Amber called her from a cell phone.

“She’s all right and that’s what’s important,” Susan Gandolfo said.

Amber thanked the Skydive Long Island team, who she said did a great job of teaching her the steps before the jump and preventing the crash landing from being worse.

It may be a while down the road, but she even thinks she may skydive again.

“I think people expect me to say no, but I’m not opposed to it,” she said. “I might. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy. I’m not to shaken up by the experience.”

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07/24/12 8:02pm
07/24/2012 8:02 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Manorville firefighters lower two skydivers, including a first-timer, to safety Tuesday afternoon in Calverton.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Manorville firefighters lower two skydivers, including a first-timer, to safety Tuesday afternoon in Calverton.

Two skydivers, including a first-time jumper, were rescued uninjured from a tree in Calverton Tuesday evening after a sudden storm blew them off track and crashed them into branches.

The two skydivers were part of 5 tandem teams that were jumping with Skydive Long Island in Calverton late Tuesday, said owner Ray Maynard.

The plane had already taken off and was in the calm air when Mr. Maynard noticed dust being blown around on the tarmac.

“With no warning whatsoever, it’s 50 mile-per-hour winds,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in 27 years.” Mr. Maynard said he rushed into the office to radio up to the plane to cancel the jump, but the skydivers had already left the plane.

The skydivers were blown around by the sudden squall and landed far off course, officials said. The two victims, a young woman and her more experienced tandem instructor, became entangled in a tree on Grumman Boulevard, just south of a string of power lines.

Manorville firefighters received the call about 6:30 p.m., officials said. They used a ladder truck to cut away branches to free the pair, who were left dangling dozens of feet in the air.

The duo was pulled into a ladder truck’s basket about 7 p.m., and though the young woman was smiling on the way down, she burst into tears once she reached the ground.

The woman was checked by Riverhead ambulance volunteers at the scene, but no one was injured in the incident.

Tom Gabrielsen, who dived with the two victims, said the ride down was smooth until they went into a cloud. Mr. Gabrielsen said his instructor, who had jumped thousands of times, told him this was the worst jump yet and that they were out of control.

“There was shaking in his voice,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. The two of them landed in a field just over a lake, unharmed.

“I give him credit,” Mr. Gabrielsen said, pointing to the sky. “God is great.”

Bill Jaeger, a local resident who was biking through the area, said he saw the divers lose control when the storm hit.

“They got caught in the wind,” he said. “It really picked up … They had no shot.”

Mr. Jaeger, who stood by as the two skydivers were brought to safety, said he was glad no one was hurt.

“That might’ve been her first jump,” he said of the younger skydiver, “Now it’ll be her last!”

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