Home News Local News Catsimatidis still pursuing Luminati EPCAL deal, according to his spokesperson

Catsimatidis still pursuing Luminati EPCAL deal, according to his spokesperson

A solar-powered ultralight "pilot optional" plane flown by Luminati pilot Rob Lutz at a demonstration event last June in Calverton. File photo: Denise Civiletti

It’s been six weeks since the Town of Riverhead gave Luminati Aerospace a firm deadline for coming to terms on the purchase of land at the Calverton Enterprise Park and nearly a month since billionaire John Catsimatidis announced his interest in getting involved in the deal. But there’s still no agreement between Luminati and the town and Catsimatidis has not yet made a decision on whether he wants a piece of it.

Catsimatidis is still very interested, his spokesperson Nelson Happy said in an interview today.

“We have to sit at the side of the road and wait for the town to deal with the contractual issues with Daniel [Preston]. Without a contract there’s nothing to back,” Catsimatidis spokesperson Nelson Happy said in an interview today.

And there’s not going to be a contract until — for starters — the town produces a survey indicating exactly what land is being sold to the purchaser. The survey and revised subdivision map have been paid for by Luminati, which delivered a $13,050 check to town hall on June 13.

Luminati attorney Robert Hasday on July 14 — when he returned marked-up copies of the draft contract to the town’s special counsel — also said there could be no final draft contract without the survey and revised subdivision map. It’s “impossible” to finalize the contract without the map and survey Hasday wrote.

“I think it’s almost done,” Supervisor Sean Walter said today. “I haven’t seen it yet.”

The town asked VHB Engineering, which prepared the existing subdivision proposal and handled the environmental review for the town, to revise the subdivision map and produce a survey. The town’s subdivision would create 50 lots; Preston wants just two. Preston agreed to pay the cost of the new work by VHB.

Lawyers for both the town and Luminati had a two-hour conference call yesterday, according to Happy, who was also on the call. He was perplexed by what he heard.

“How can they posture that there’s no agreement when the town has not provided the most important document — that [Preston] paid for like six weeks ago,” Happy said. The town keeps threatening to cancel its letter of intent — entered into with Luminati in April — because there’s no draft agreement. But it hasn’t really been negotiating the agreement, he said. So it’s a hollow threat, according to Happy — unless the town wants to be tied up in litigation for years.

“If they want to dump Daniel and move on to something else this isn’t the way to do it,” Happy said. “I told Sean Walter, ‘I think you guys would be blown out of the water if you tried to sell to somebody else.’ And I think they would. There’s either extreme naiveté or complete incompetence — no follow through — or maybe a desire not to have a contract,” Happy said.

During yesterday’s lengthy telephone call, the lawyers for the town were very focused on spelling out the exact land uses that would be allowed and where they would be developed, in great detail — detail that’s impossible to nail down at this point, Happy said.

“Talks are continuing,” said Luminati spokesperson Joshua Knoller.

“They sent Daniel back to the drawing board to restate a description of the proposed use,” Happy said. “Meanwhile they didn’t even get to negotiating things in the contract that need to be negotiated.”

So Catsimatidis waits.

Preston’s vision — manufacturing ultralight, unmanned solar- and wind-powered aircraft capable of perpetual flight — is “a great use” of the former Grumman site, in keeping with what the site was developed for in the first place, Happy said.

“It’s got two amazing runways. It would be insane not to consider that as a primary use,” he said.

Does Catsimatidis believe Preston can make his vision — which Happy called “a project of biblical proportions” — a reality?

There’s healthy skepticism, Happy allowed. “But not in a bad way,” he added.

“There’s visionaries that pull things like this off,” he said. “I don’t think Elon Musk [CEO of Tesla Inc. and cofounder of SpaceX] is any different. People thought Henry Ford was crazy with his vision of a mass-production assembly line,” Happy said. “Daniel needs to have some solid business people working with him that are not visionaries, that are truly executives that can execute on his vision. If there’s one weakness in Daniel, that’s it,” Happy said.

“On the other hand John Catsimatidis is not in the dream business. He’s a businessman and if that aeronautical park doesn’t materialize and he’s backed it with $40 million — probably a minimum of $60 million — he’s certainly not going to walk away and lose the money. So you gotta have a plan B.” Even if Preston’s dream is realized, he likely wouldn’t require more than about 100 acres of land in the enterprise park — including space for all the vendors Luminati’s project would attract to the site.

“That leaves 500 acres. Holy mackerel,” Happy said. “That’s an enormous tract of land. So when somebody says ‘What’s your plan?’ The answer has to be ‘I don’t know yet.’ It’s not something that can be devised in a few weeks. It’s going to be market-driven and it’s going to be driven by the “many competing interests in the town,” he said, including conservationists, residents, politicians.

“It’s almost like a buzz saw of ideas,” Happy said.

“The fact that [Catsimatidis] already has big investments in the town, including 15 acres at EPCAL, is a plus. John didn’t just fall off the turnip truck when it comes to Riverhead.”

The self-made billionaire didn’t just fall off the turnip truck when it comes to business anywhere. His Red Apple Group is “a conglomerate that owns and operates assets in the energy, real estate, finance, insurance and supermarket industries,” according to the company website.

Catsimatidis is not looking to finance Luminati’s purchase of land at EPCAL, according to his spokesperson. He would enter into a partnership with Preston, likely forming a new development company, Happy said.  

Would Catsimatidis want to buy the acreage without Luminati Aerospace? Not very likely, according to Happy. Luminati would be important to the future of the site. Without the aerospace company, he said, “It would be like starting from scratch, and that’s a different situation.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.