What if there was a version of Fire Island in Europe? Would you want to invest?
Launched just a few weeks ago, the concept of “New Fire Island” has been attracting a lot of attention – both positive and negative.
We caught up with Nigel Smith – chief product officer of the New Fire Island project – to find out what it was all about.
What was the catalyst that kicked off the New Fire Island project?
I’ve been going to the Pines on Fire Island for 20 years – I love it, as well as other gay destinations such as P-town and Mykonos.
The Pines is very special because it’s ultra rainbow – other places are a bit gay, but Fire Island is amazing.
I was looking for a holiday home for myself but was just getting frustrated by the price increases of properties on Fire Island. I was complaining to my friends – Aron and Brett – and the idea just kind of grew from there, why don’t we make a whole new one?
For me, as an architect and a designer, it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity – how do we create a purpose-built gay community? How do we create a gay vacation destination?
We’re not competing with the Pines – we’re in a whole different part of the world.
You’re in the early phase of scoping out what this development could be – what sort of response have you had so far?
We’ve already had 1900 people sign up to our wait-list, and that’s growing every day.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this level of reaction – both positive and negative.
For people that have joined the wait-list, I’ve been inviting them to have Zoom calls with me to discuss the project. I’ve spoken with about 80 people so far and I’m really pleased with how on-board everyone is – they get it. There’s a real sense that this is something that we can shape together.
We want to make sure that we make New Fire Island accessible – as well as the stand-alone homes, we’ll have studio apartments, condos, and a hotel. We want to facilitate the intergenerational relationships that are so important in the gay community. We’re looking at how we support remote working, and a co-working space. We could create a business incubator, with mentoring available. That sense of community is really important to us.
Your initial marketing material describes how New Fire Island will bring together a community of gay men – that doesn’t feel particularly inclusive of the broader queer community?
We are targeting gay men. That’s what I am, that’s what I know, that’s the experience that I have. I know how to design an amazing town for gay men. If we build it for everyone, it won’t be for everyone.
But we don’t tolerate intolerance – everybody is welcome.
This is going to be an escape for people – we spend so much of our lives in a straight world, this will be an opportunity to spend our vacations in a gay world.
Your marketing material includes the line: “Now, it is our turn to benefit from gentrification, not suffer through it.” I’m just wondering what impact this kind of development might have on local communities – we’re already seeing very strong push-back from cities such as Barcelona and Lisbon about people coming in and making housing unaffordable?
We won’t be displacing anyone – that’s part of our land criteria. It’s going to be an insulated community – there will be wilderness around us.
We’re going to make a couple of farmers very wealthy.
Some of the laws around property ownership and length of stay visas could be tricky to navigate – particularly for people who aren’t EU citizens?
Permanent residency is achievable in a lot of places for around €250,000.
We’re expecting our properties to be priced around €250,000 and spending that amount of money gives you permanent residency in many countries.
Aron D’Souza is an interesting name to have attached to the project – are you concerned that his reputation may undermine the credibility of New Fire Island?
Not at all. He’s one of my best friends. He’s an extraordinary person. I’ve seen Aron be incredibly successful in a range of business ventures over the last 15 years.
We all have colourful lives, we all have interesting histories. That’s what makes being gay great – we’re interesting people.
You’re talking about a 2-5 year lead time from now until when this development is going to be underway? That seems ambitious? What are some of the next steps in making this project a reality?
We’re building a community – people with a common interest.
Finding land together will take some time, and building infrastructure will take some time.
By next year, we’re expecting to start holding some pop-up parties, creating opportunities for everyone to get to know their prospective neighbours.
By 2026, we are planning to have an initial stage of construction under way – we have the investment support to be able to do that. This could be a small community of houses with a cafe/restaurant/bar.
In the subsequent years, we’d be building large volumes of houses. We’re moving with pace.
However, you also need to allow time and space for people to establish their homes. There needs to be a sense of curation and ownership, and a sense of belonging.
We’re building a real community.
Why is the original Fire Island an iconic queer destination?
Fire Island Pines first became a mecca for gay men in 1952, when it was illegal for two men to dance together in public. With its lush foliage, white sandy beaches, beautiful modern architecture, and its miles of famous wooden plank boardwalks, the island served as a refuge for young gay men. Fire Island Pines also attracted numerous celebrities who purchases holiday homes or vacationed in the summer.
The journey from New York City to Fire Island takes less than two-hours on the Long Island Railroad. From the Sayville train stop, travellers board busses to the Fire Island Pines ferry. There is also a nearby airport – MacArthur is ten minutes away, allowing guests from around the world to enjoy The Pines’ many attractions.
If you’re planning a trip to Fire Island, getting your accommodation booked should be the priority. There are hotel rooms, while renting a house takes a bit more organising but will give you a great base to maximise a memorable summer.