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