A Three-Legged Strategy For a New Riverhead

 

I’ve been asked to speak with you this morning about my experience as mayor in

Greenport and its relevance to Riverhead. Although I might like to, I currently have no

formal role in Riverhead, so my thoughts this morning fall under the banner of free

advice, and you know what that’s worth!

So with that proviso, I’d like to talk about what I call a Three-Legged Strategy For a New

Riverhead.

Let me explain.

Whereas the Greenport economy historically revolved around an exceptional waterfront

with fishing and waterfront industry, the recent revival has flourished around tourism and

second-home ownership attracted to Greenport’s natural beauty. While these forces have

created considerable success, it’s not enough to insure economic stability for the yearround

population. For the average resident, Greenport remains a challenging place to

raise a family.

Riverhead is a much different place than Greenport, with its own unique advantage: a

regionally strategic location. There’s a reason why our forefathers chose Riverhead as the

county seat: it lays dead center in the middle of Suffolk, readily accessible to residents

throughout the county.

Proof of this theory is Route 58, the region’s dominant retail cluster. For most families,

when it comes to shopping on eastern Suffolk, all roads lead to 58.

Why doesn’t this natural geographic advantage come into force downtown?

I believe the answer is rooted in early Suffolk history, when the founders drew the

boundary line between Riverhead and Southampton right down the middle of Peconic

River, bisecting what everyone thinks of as Riverhead and isolating the Riverside

neighborhood under the jurisdiction of Southampton Town. This arrangement galvanizes

an unsatisfactory status-quo and precludes the coordinated planning and policy

implementation needed to move a community forward.

The average person has no idea when they drive around the Flanders Rd. traffic circle

that they’re not in Riverhead; or that mail to Riverside is sent to a Riverhead postal

address, or that Riverside children attend Riverhead Schools. And what would a person

say if told that the Riverhead County Center is actually in Southampton?

It’s no secret that the south side of Peconic River has been severely depressed for

decades, and that Southampton has historically shown little interest in addressing the

problems on their side of the line. In contrast, Riverhead has enjoyed considerable

success addressing similar conditions on its side of the river.

It’s also no secret that socio-economic distress incubates crime, and there’s a widely-held

perception that there’s a serious crime problem in Riverhead. People who hold this

opinion make no distinction which side of the river the problem comes from. To them,

it’s all Riverhead and it’s a place to avoid, especially after dark.

Most people would say that the reason for Main Street’s decline is the success of Route

58. In fact, the decline may have as much to do with slum conditions in Riverside that

Southampton has allowed to fester for decades and that have slowly but relentlessly

undermined Main Street’s vitality.

Resolving this identity crisis is the key challenge to successful revitalization of a unified

Riverhead.

Setting the Riverside question aside for a moment, the next challenge is to think about

what market would be served by a revitalized Riverhead.

I believe the answer may lie in building to meet the unserved needs and preferences of

East End youth. One of the major laments of local families is the lack of opportunity for

youth; from recreation and entertainment to affordable housing and job opportunity. We

all decry that our kids are likely to grow up and move to communities elsewhere that

meet their needs. But we are unable as communities to overcome political opposition to

needed housing and recreation facilities, let alone job-producing industry. As a result, the

opportunity implicit in providing these facilities is low-hanging fruit for a community

willing to embrace them.

Why couldn’t Riverhead promote itself as a Mecca for youth, with recreation and

entertainment facilities complementing affordably priced housing, neighborhood retail

and services, and job opportunities at EPCAL and throughout the East End? Assuming

LIRR chooses not to eliminate train service, people living downtown could also commute

to jobs in western Suffolk and beyond.

One way to investigate this idea would be to conduct a survey of local high school and

college graduates to see what they would want from a community seeking to attract them

as residents. New blood and lots of it would be a certain ticket to success for Riverhead.

Now, what about that three-legged strategy? A three-legged stool can’t stand with one leg

missing and I suggest that these are the legs that needed to support a revitalized

Riverhead:

• Leg one is a Main Street carefully redesigned to meet the needs of a specific

market.

• Leg two is a plan to take on the problems and opportunities in Riverside in order

to unify all of Riverhead, improve public safety, and take full advantage of

Peconic River.

• Leg three is the economic opportunity at EPCAL to support the increased

population needed to patronize a revitalized downtown.

I hope you find these thoughts provocative.

I am available to help make things happen, if there’s a role for me.

Thank you.

 

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