One thing was clear, just from the huge turnout: the Riverhead community cares deeply about the future of downtown Riverhead.
That future was the topic of discussion at a ‘downtown summit’ called by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter Friday, who declared to the standing-room-only crowd packed into a vacant East Main Street storefront, “The solutions to downtown’s problems are in this room.” Inviting people to invest in downtown, he pledged: “Riverhead government will get out of your way.”
One by one, town officials responsible for its economic development programs stood at a podium in the front of the room and detailed what the programs they administer can do for business people, providing incentives to start business and bring development to Riverhead’s long-struggling downtown. Together, Empire Zone coordinator Tracy Stark, Community Development director Chris Kempner and Industrial Development Agency director Anna Maria Villa explained the myriad incentives for businesses to locate downtown, a designated Urban Renewal Area and Empire Zone, offering dozens of tax exemptions, tax credits and other financial bonuses to new businesses.
Riverhead planning director Rick Hanley explained downtown zoning use districts, asked the audience members to suggest changes they’d like to see (there were none) and pledged his department’s cooperation in quick and efficient site plan review.
The audience was filled with people representing a broad cross section of the Riverhead community, who could, if they came together, exhorted the supervisor, “turn downtown around:” school board president Angela DeVito, Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO Andrew Mitchell, Vision Long Island executive director Eric Alexander, downtown business owners Jim Bissett and Joe Petrocelli (Atlantis Marine World), Ray Dickhoff (developer of Summer Wind on Peconic Avenue), Dee Muma (Dark Horse Catering), local architects Gary Jacquemin and Martin Sendlewski, land surveyor Howard Young, Suffolk County National Bank president Gordon Huszagh, East End Arts Council executive director Patricia Snyder, landmarks preservation commission chairman Richard Wines and Empire State Development corporation regional director Andrea Lohneiss, a Riverhead resident who served as the town’s community development director for nearly 20 years before moving to the state agency in 2008, and a variety of town department heads, residents and media outlets.
Also in the audience was a man whom some might describe as the 900-pound gorilla in the room, downtown landlord Sheldon Gordon, a partner in Riverhead Enterprises, which, Walter noted, was actually hosting the event. The vacant storefront (formerly and briefly the home of Crave Computer) like many of downtown Riverhead’s vacant storefronts, is owned by Gordon and his partners, three of whom were also at the summit. Gordon was the last person to take the podium.
Downtown revitalization is a three-legged stool, Gordon said. Success requires business, government and landowners to work together. He pledged his cooperation in the effort going forward.
Walter said afterward that he is confident that the time for downtown renewal has arrived. It will be a focus of his administration, he said and Friday’s summit was “a good start.”
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