Artist's rendering of riverfront 'town square'. Image courtesy of Town of Riverhead

Riverhead Town has been awarded an $800,000 state grant to help it establish the “town square” officials have been talking about.

The award is one of the 2019 Regional Economic Development grants, totaling more than $761 million, announced yesterday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Town officials say this grant can be a very important catalyst for downtown revitalization going forward.

“I’m pretty psyched about it,” said Community Development Director Dawn Thomas, who wrote the grant application. “It’s a really nice signal that they (Empire State Development) have confidence in our forward motion downtown,” she said.

Thomas said the town has other grant applications pending for additional funds to support the town square project.

“We’re thrilled,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said. “We’ve been looking to create the connection between Main Street and the riverfront, to create a town square.”

Jens-Smith said the town will look to “pool this award to leverage it with other grant funding to be able to acquire property” for the new park.

Which property would be acquired depends on what’s available, officials said. There has been interest from developers in the large vacant buildings on Main Street — an interest officials say has been, at least in part, inspired by the designation of downtown Riverhead as a federal opportunity zone.

Supervisor-elect Yvette Aguiar called the grant “great news” and said the riverfront revitalization will “enhance our town and move it forward.”

She thanked Thomas for her work. “She’s really done a great job,” Aguiar said. “I look forward to working with her to continue downtown revitalization. It’s a great step forward.”

The Long Island Science Center, which is currently located in a temporary space in Summerwind Square and is seeking to relocate to a larger space in downtown Riverhead, was awarded a $775,000 grant to expand its facility in Riverhead and increase its STEM programs.

Tebbens Steel, which is located in the Calverton Enterprise Park, was awarded two grants totaling $500,000 to upgrade its structural metal fabrication facility by adding new equipment to expand its business.

Spirit’s Promise Equine Rescue, located on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, won a $90,000 grant to expand its current space to enable the organization to offer year-round workforce development and youth programs.

The New York Marine Rescue Center (formerly the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research & Preservation) won a $75,000 grant to enhance its tourism program by providing enhanced public access to its unique hospital and rehabilitation center and offering specially tailored guided tours and educational programs with the goal of informing the public about man-made risks to sea life.

Suffolk County was awarded a $1 million grant to establish a shared records management system for use by the Suffolk County Police Department and the 18 town and village police departments within the county. A shared records management system will enable real-time information sharing between all participating agencies.

Peconic Land Trust won a $3,656,370 grant to implement the next phase of its regional aquifer protection land acquisition program to acquire land or development rights to protect Long Island’s sole source aquifer. This year the program will focus on acquiring land in the towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and East Hampton to protect land in special groundwater protection areas within the Peconic Estuary and Long Island Sound Study Watershed.

Suffolk County Economic Development and Planning got a $70,000 award for a feasibility study for a meat processing facility at the county farm to determine whether a facility would expand economic development opportunities for local farmers while reducing county operational expenses.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe won a $750,000 award to transform the only existing laboratory of inventor Nikola Tesla into three unique attractions: a museum honoring Tesla and his legacy; a center for education and research; and an entrepreneur and technologist innovation program.

Islip Town was awarded $1 million to continue the revitalization and modernization of the main terminal at Long Island MacArthur Airport with new vestibule doors, a new roof and a state-of-the-art baggage claim wing.

All told, projects submitted by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council received $87.9 million in funding this year, the ninth round of Regional Economic Development Council initiative.

Since its inception in 2011, over $6.9 billion has been awarded to more than 8,300 projects that are projected to create and retain more than 240,000 jobs statewide through the REDC process, according to the governor’s office.

“Throughout the Regional Economic Development Council process over the past nine years, we have seen unprecedented regional investment focusing on a ground-up, strategic model that has spurred tremendous growth in every corner of this great state,” Cuomo said in a press release yesterday.

“By bringing together local leaders and stakeholders who are invested in their communities we have replaced the ‘one size fits all’ approach to economic development with one that is unique to each community, creating opportunities for success all across the Empire State.”

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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.