Concept drawing of the new Long Island Science Center location and the proposed town square.

Plans for a riverfront town square in the heart of downtown adjoining a new and vastly expanded Long Island Science Center were rolled out today at the science center’s temporary quarters in Summerwind Square.

It was fitting to hold a press conference on Valentine’s Day to discuss the plans, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar told the crowd gathered inside the science center.

“A heart transplant for Riverhead is on the horizon,” Aguiar said.

The heart of Riverhead will be improved with the Long Island Science Center redeveloping the “long-blighted and vacant Swezey’s building,” Aguiar said. The former West Marine building has been sold to a new developer, who has proposed a four-story mixed use building for the site. The town intends to acquire the adjacent vacant building to east of the former Swezey’s building, Aguiar said, “to open up” the town square to Main Street.

“You’re going to have visuals from the riverfront straight into The Suffolk Theater,” Aguiar said.

“Our new riverfront gathering space, with splash pads, performance centers and interactive children’s activities designed by the science center — these planned improvements will now open onto the town square, providing families with an additional space to gather and to explore our town,” the supervisor said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar reviews a conceptual drawing of the new town square with Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“Through public-private partnerships, we will develop small retail spaces, restaurants and art galleries, creating a destination for all,” she said. “Through collective efforts and with the dedication of some very important people with us here today, the heart transplant Riverhead is receiving today will ensure a strong and confident future for our downtown,” Aguiar said.

The plan on display today was a concept drawing; a formal plan has not yet been completed.

The new science center building is 24,000 square feet on two floors, Long Island Science Center founder and president Larry Oxman said. Quadruple the size of the center’s current location, it will provide an expanse of space for interactive exhibits and activities, displays and classrooms.

State Senator Ken LaValle said Riverhead’s downtown revitalization has “taken a while” but “it’s great what’s happening.”

“I have said throughout my career every community should have a Central Park — an area where there’s greenery and people can enjoy themselves and recreate,” LaValle said. “Yvette, this is truly moving in the right direction and it’s a great thing for Riverhead and the people who live here.”

County Executive Steve Bellone said the vision of the science center and the town square is “great not only for the people of this town but for everyone in the county.” He said the supervisor has “a really strong, bold vision for the future here” and pledged the county would be “a great partner” to the town. He noted the county’s past investments in the town, including an $8 million infrastructure grant for the town’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade, $200,000 in downtown revitalization grants and $400,000 for roadway infrastructure to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety downtown.

“So many exciting things are happening,” Bellone said. “This town is moving in a great direction and we just want to be here to continue to support your efforts and your vision moving forward.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin’s district manager Mark Woolley said the congressman’s office is ready to help the town in any way possible. He said that at Aguiar’s request the congressman’s office had reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers to set up a site visit to assess the situation with frequent riverfront flooding.

“They’re amendable to coming out for a site visit,” Woolley said. “Hopefully that will lead to a study, followed by the mitigation work,” he said. “Any way we can help at the federal level, we’re going to do that.”

The supervisor gave special thanks to Community Development administrator Dawn Thomas and her staff members Joe Maiorana and
Frank Messina for their dedication and hard work securing the $800,000 grant from Empire State Development. The town’s grant and a $775,000 grant to the science center were made by the state at the recommended by the Long Island Regional Economic Development

Oxman credited Christine Kempner with writing the grant application that resulted in a $775,000 grant from Empire State Development. Kempner, Thomas’ predecessor as Riverhead Community Development administrator, said in an interview that the science center, by providing instruction in STEM subjects, is helping to cultivate an interest in young kids in science, technology, engineering and math. It is, essentially, workforce training for the future, creating a pipeline of coders, engineers and scientists.

Long Island has a rich history of innovators and inventors, Oxman said, and the science center plans to showcase that history. He pointed to a glass case in the room where the press conference took place. In that case are several old video game consoles.

“The first video game was created at Brookhaven Lab in 1958. Most people don’t know that,” Oxman noted.

“The Long Island Science Center experience is designed to stimulate and encourage a lifelong interest in the sciences and promote science literacy in both children and adults,” Oxman said, reading from the center’s mission statement, which he said “encapsulates what we’re really all about.”

In attendance at the press conference were the Riverhead Town Board — Jodi Giglio, Tim Hubbard, Catherine Kent and Frank Beyrodt— Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation and the governor’s office, representatives of the town’s downtown revitalization committee, the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and Long Island Science Center board members.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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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.