Lakewood Stables in West Hempstead will soon undergo a long-awaited and dramatic transformation.
Alex Jacobson, the stable’s current owner, plans to knock down the nearly century-old, dilapidated horse ranch on Eagle Avenue this month and erect a state-of-the art equestrian center in its place.
When Jacobson, 34, an optician and real estate broker from Baldwin, took over the business in 2006, the plan was to demolish the stables and build condos on the land.
However, after holding a community meeting and conducting his own research he learned that the although many of the neighbors considered the ranch a blight, the majority wanted to see it stay and improvements made.
Jacobson, who grew up in Five Towns, said he had been on a horse maybe twice in his life, but was by no means a horseman. Still, after learning that the horse ranch was the only one remaining on the South Shore of Nassau County, he changed his game plan and has since worked hard to preserve it.
“I wanted to do this for the community,” he said. “This provides a safe, family-friendly place to keep kids off the streets. It’s great for the community and has been here over 85 years.”
He started cleaning up the place in 2006, hauling away 40 dumpsters of garbage, and performing light maintenance work, such as adding new flooring and a coating of paint.
Still, there was only so much he could do to improve the facility. Both barns were beyond saving. As he led Patch on a tour of the stables he pointed out the low ceilings, cramped, undersized stalls and structures that were falling apart. (See the photos.)
“I hate to see the horses kept in these conditions,” Jacobson said. “The only way this place could survive is by redeveloping it and making it a year-round equestrian center,” Jacobson said.
In addition to being an eyesore, Jacobson explained that the current facility lacks an indoor riding arena, which makes it nearly impossible for the business to sustain itself.
Since buying the place from the previous owner, who was in foreclosure, Jacobson, has been able to bring in much more business, increasing the number of lessons the stables does during its peak season from 10 to 700 per month, and bringing in over 50 horses in the first six months.
Still, he is only able to operate at high capacity for 150 days out of the year, because Mother Nature dictates when they can be open. This also prevents them from bringing in riding teams such as those at local colleges, which require an indoor place to ride.
On top of that, they are grappling with high taxes – around $70,000 annually.
“You can’t tax a horse ranch like this,” Jacobson said. “I charge $40 for a trail ride or lesson. How many will have I have to do just to cover taxes?”
Jacobson said this doesn’t even factor in the expenses of caring for the horses, pointing out that changing the shavings in each stall costs him hundreds every day.
Add in mortgage payments, and a $75,000 tax refund from 2009 that Jacobson said Nassau County has failed to pay out, and Lakewood now finds itself a few hundred of thousands of dollars in debt.
“We’ve been teetering on foreclosure for the past two years,” said Jacobson, but added that he’s been making lump sum payments to his financial lender, Maspeth Federal Savings & Loan. “We’ve been working with them for full reinstatement.”
Recently, the bank postponed a foreclosure auction that was scheduled for the property and Jacobson said he has private monies set aside.
“Technically we’re in foreclosure, but hopefully it’s for a limited time,” Jacobson said.
So what makes Jacobson optimistic?
There are a few things. For one, after five years of meeting with the Town of Hempstead Zoning Board and waiting for approvals, he finally has the necessary clearance to proceed with the redevelopment plans for the site.
In February, he received the demolition permits and plans to start tearing down the old structures this month. Then, throughout April and May, workers will begin constructing a 30,000 square foot indoor riding arena, complete with skylights and large doors that Jacobson says will “make you feel as if you are riding outside.”
The arena roof will contain solar panels, which will help reduce the utility costs by 90 percent, and the floor will be comprised of a special dust-free synthetic footing that is used by top equestrian centers around the country.
“It looks like dirt, but it’s not,” he said. “If kids do fall off a horse, they’ll be falling onto what feels like a soft mattress.”
The arena will also have a 7,000 square foot mezzanine that seats 99, making it a premier place to host horse shows. Jacobson already plans to increase the number of shows held at the facility from four to six once the new arena is open.
The dilapidated barns will also be replaced with ones that have spacious and luxurious stalls for the horses and heated wash rooms.
“It will be like a five-star hotel for horses,” Jacobson said. “It will be a much better quality of life for the horses.”
He hopes the arena and the new barns will be completed by June, saying that these elements of the project are the main priorities.
The rest of the project includes a brand-new, two-story clubhouse for VIP boarders, locker rooms, a retail shop for merchandise and riding equipment, and additional office space.
“Everyone has been in favor of the redevelopment of this ranch, but it’s just been a process,” he said.
Jacobson is also hopeful that tax relief is on its way.
Currently, there is a New York State law on the books that grants tax relief to agricultural properties, including horse ranches, but requires that these sites be atleast five acres. Lakewood Stables is just over one acre and will be close to 2 once the new facilities are constructed.
After learning about this law, Jacobson assembled a team to craft a bill that would lower the requirement to one acre and tapped New York State Sen. Kemp Hannon and Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg to sponsor it.
The bill, which would reduce the stable’s tax burden by 66 percent, has been stuck in Albany for three years, but Jacobson said his lobbyists have told him it could be considered during the next legislative session this summer.
To get to this point, Jacobson said his team has collected over 2,500 petitions in favor of the bill, as well as a "home rule message" from Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray.
“It has all the support it needs, but just needs someone to do something,” he said.
He encourages residents to contact their local representatives to encourage them to support the bill, saying it is key to the stable’s future.
“If we lose this [stable] your children won’t have a place to ride in the area,” Jacobson said.
Watching Jacobson interact with the animals and speak about his experiences at the ranch over the past five years, it’s clear that the horses and the people he has worked with have earned a special place in his heart.
He said he’s seen thousands of kids come to the stable for horse shows, camps and birthday parties.
“I’ve done so many rides and everyone starts and ends with a smile,” he said.
After partnering with Horse Ability in 2008, a program that provides therapeutic riding, he’s also seen the positive impact that the horses have on children with autism and other disabilities, and veterans.
“I’ve seen autistic children talk for first time while on a horse,” he said. “Our regulars use this as a place to clear their heads.”
Those wishing to support the horse farm can make donations via PayPal on the