The long vacant former Walmart space. File photo: Denise Civiietti

The owner of the shopping center vacated by Wal-Mart last year has been negotiating with “several” movie theater companies interested in coming to Riverhead, according to a company executive.

“It’s still in a very preliminary stage,” Andrew Aberham, director of sales and leasing for Philips International, the Manhattan-based holding company that controls the site through its subsidiary Riverhead PGC LLC, told RiverheadLOCAL in a phone interview this afternoon. He noted that the town’s zoning code doesn’t even allow a movie theater use in the site’s zoning use district.

That’s something town officials have been talking about changing for a while now. The town removed movie theaters from the list of permitted uses in zoning districts along Route 58 — and added it as a permitted use in the town’s downtown zoning district — in 2004. The change was made at the request of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association, in the hope of getting a movie theater built on Main Street.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said yesterday, after meeting with Aberham during a planning department work session, that she would introduce a resolution amending town code to reinstate the use in certain zoning districts along Route 58.

Aberham said he is not at liberty to disclose the movie theater companies he’s been speaking with, but the councilwoman said yesterday he told officials Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theaters were both interested.

Planning department work sessions, held on Tuesday mornings in town hall, are not open to the public or the media. Giglio attends the meetings a town board liaison to the planning department.

“Anybody can say they are interested and then pull out,” Aberham acknowledged this afternoon. But a movie theater is a viable use of the site, he added.

“I believe a movie theater would be a very good use for the center and very good for the town,” he said.

“We are looking to redevelop the whole site,” Aberham noted.

The company already has a pending application for two freestanding restaurant pads on the site. “We believe that’s a compatible use with a theater and those approvals would help us attract a theater to the vacated Wal-Mart site,” Aberham said. “It would be synergistic.”

2015_0408_king_kullenThere are several other tenants in the center, including a King Kullen supermarket. Aberham said the family-owned Long Island grocery chain has “an effective lease” at the site, but acknowledged the owner has been in discussions with the tenant about its future intentions. “It’s hard to say” what King Kullen’s plans are, Aberham said.

The grocery store landscape in Riverhead has changed significantly since King Kullen, recognized by the Smithsonian as “America’s First Supermarket,” opened here decades ago. Walbaum’s, Stop and Shop and Aldi have all opened in Riverhead since King Kullen first opened here. BJ’s and Costco wholesale clubs have also opened in Riverhead. Additional competition also comes from discount retailers like Wal-Mart — the nation’s largest grocery retailer — Kmart and Target. King Kullen, founded in 1930, currently has 37 locations in Nassau and Suffolk. The company also owns Wild by Nature, a natural/organic grocery that has five locations, four of them in Suffolk.

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