The owner of the former Wal-Mart site on Route 58 is working to bring a movie theater to the space vacated by the national retail chain last year.

The property owner and its leasing agent met with Riverhead officials today to discuss their plans for the site, Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said this afternoon.

They told officials during a planning department work session today that two movie theater chains are “very interested” in the location, Giglio said. She identified the chains as Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theatres.

Giglio said she will soon introduce code amendments to allow movie theaters in specific zoning use districts on Route 58.

It’s been more than a decade since movie theaters were removed from the list of permitted uses in zoning districts along the town’s commercial artery and added as permitted uses in the town’s downtown zoning district. The change was made by the town board in 2004, at the request of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association, in the hope of getting a movie theater built on Main Street. Prior to the change, the town board — beginning in 1996 — approved five different movie theater permits for locations on Route 58. The last one, a multiplex theater planned by Marquee Cinemas for the site where Costco Wholesale was eventually built, was approved in 2003. Marquee Cinemas’ plans were scuttled when one of the principals in project ran into financial and legal troubles unrelated to the Riverhead project.

Despite the initial interest of two developers — including downtown “master developer” Apollo Real Estate — and more recent efforts by Supervisor Sean Walter to lure Regal Cinemas downtown, no Main Street movie theater was ever
proposed.

In November, Walter said he had spoken with owners of the shopping center then recently vacated by Wal-Mart for a new location on the west end of Route 58.

The supervisor said at the time Regal Cinemas, which had explored the possibility of locating downtown, was still interested in Riverhead and would build on Route 58 “in a heartbeat.”

But Regal said the old Wal-Mart site was too old and needed too many renovations, according to Walter. The shopping center owner was willing to renovate the property and build to suit,” Walter said last year. But, he said, Regal wasn’t interested.

“What I hear is they want a location at the terminus of the expressway,” Walter told RiverheadLOCAL in a November 2014 interview.

Giglio said today she thinks the conversion of the former Wal-Mart location into a multiplex cinema would be a good project for the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency.

“It’s an area in danger of blight,” Giglio said.

The supervisor said today pursuing a movie theater is “definitely something the owners of the shopping center are interested in.”

Walter said the biggest stumbling block is “the strength of the movie theater industry.”

“It’s something that the town board and I have been working on for a long time
and I hope it comes to fruition,” Walter said. “I know they [the property owner] are interested. I hope it comes to fruition.”

The property owner’s representative could not be reached and did not return a call seeking comment.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.