Plans to expand the Suffolk Theater to create a fully functional performing arts center were presented to the town board today by theater owner Bob Castaldi, architect Richard Stott and consultant Victor Prusinowski.
Castaldi is looking to build a 5,643-square-foot, five-story addition on the back of the theater, which, on the stage level, will provide the theater with a larger backstage, dressing rooms, green rooms, offices and bathrooms.
The addition will also include three commercial rental spaces and 28 rental apartments — eight one-bedroom and 20 studio apartments.
The site plan application, initially filed over a year ago, is still at the earliest stages of review. The town will initiate a coordinated review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act to examine impacts of the proposal on a variety of issues, including parking.
Councilwoman Catherine Kent said thought the proposed building “isn’t in keeping with the character of the area — It still looks like an office building.”
Architect Stott said his aim in the design was to create “a conversation between the modern building and deco style” of the 1933 movie theater.
The plans will go before the town’s architectural review board and landmarks preservation committee for review and recommendations. The town board has site plan authority for projects in the downtown urban renewal area.
Kent and Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith expressed concerns about parking impacts associated with the rental apartments.
The theater is located in the Riverhead parking district and under town code, is not required to provide off-street parking. Property owners in the parking district pay a special tax that is used to provide and improve parking.
“To me, the parking issue isn’t a stumbling block at all,” Councilman James Wooten said. “The parking problem will take care of itself.” He said he sees some sort of “structured parking” in the future.
“Years ago, we said we had a parking problem in Riverhead,” Prusinowski said. “You know what it was? No one was parking there.”
Castaldi and his wife Dianne bought the theater from the town in 2005 for $707,000 and undertook a painstaking renovation and restoration project. Their renovation plans were stalled after the town signed a master developer agreement with Apollo Real Estate Advisors to redevelop the struggling downtown district. The dispute between Castaldi and the town grew and Castaldi eventually sued the town. The lawsuit was settled in 2010.
The Suffolk, a Depression-era Works Project Administration construction project, opened in December 1933 and closed down in 1987. The town acquired it in 1994 with the intention of converting the theater into a performing arts center. It sat vacant for more than a decade, as various renovation plans were discussed and debated.
The theater re-opened in March 2013.
Castaldi said today the Suffolk is “on the map,” with patrons coming from all over the tri-state area. They are coming for a show, staying overnight at local hotels and “making a weekend of it,” he said.
“Thank you for your investment in this town,” Councilman Tim Hubbard told Castaldi. “It started the revitalization of downtown Riverhead.”
The theater is “an asset downtown,” Jens-Smith said. “You did a great job. It’s beautiful. Being the town board, we also have to look at the details.”
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