Prospects for a new multi-screen movie theater in Riverhead — something the Riverhead Town Board has courted and issued several approvals for since the early 1990s — are “looking good,” according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

He said the owner of the large shopping center east of Ostrander Avenue has met with town officials about plans for three new free-standing buildings at the site — a 10- or 12-screen movie theater and two restaurant pads.

The plans call for the demolition of the now-vacant former Walmart store and the stores to its east, to make way for the new movie theater, Walter said. The tenants in those shops would be relocated to spaces in the rest of the shopping center, an L-shaped plaza that currently houses a Gala Fresh Farms supermarket, a liquor store, pizza and Chinese restaurants and other retail shops.

The supervisor said representatives of site owner, Riverhead PGC LLC, have met with him as well as Riverhead planning department staff to review and discuss a site plan design drawn up by the owner’s architects and engineers.

Last April, an executive at Philips International, the Manhattan-based holding company that controls the site, told RiverheadLOCAL he was then negotiating with “several” movie theater companies interested in coming to Riverhead.

“I believe a movie theater would be a very good use for the center and very good for the town,” Philips director of sales and leasing Andrew Aberham said in an interview on April 8. He declined to name the theater companies who were interested.

2015_0408_wal-mart“We are looking to redevelop the whole site,” Aberham noted last year.

He could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said last April that company representatives met with town officials at a planning department work session to discuss plans for the site, vacated by Walmart when it opened a bigger store opposite Tanger Outlets in January 2014. She said the developer told officials Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theaters were both interested.

Walter had been trying to convince Regal Cinemas to build a multiplex theater on Main Street, but ultimately the theater company demurred. The supervisor said at the time they told him they’d be very interested in coming to Route 58.

The town board in 2004 changed the zoning code to make the downtown district the only one in town where a movie theater is an allowed use.

Both Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy have said they want to change the code to allow movie theaters on Route 58 again, but neither has introduced a resolution to effect that change. Walter has argued against that move. He believes the board should wait until a real proposal is on the table.

“I am cautiously optimistic that ths is going to happen,” Walter said in an interview yesterday.

Before the 2004 code change, the Riverhead 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.

The supervisor said the developers would “need IDA benefits” to undertake the redevelopment project and had already met with Riverhead Industrial Development Agency executive director Tracy Stark-James to discuss their plans and a potential application. The IDA can arrange for financing and has the power to grant partial real property tax abatements on new improvements. It can also grant exemptions from mortgage recording as well as sales and use taxes.

The property owner currently pays $163,714.14 in annual total taxes on the eastern portion of the retail center previously occupied by Walmart as well as the shops east of the now-vacant store.

Its other current tax bills on the site — the rest of the plaza plus the freestanding Firestone shop and bank — total $434,228 in the 2015-2016 tax year.

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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.