Rendering of one version of the proposed town square, prepared by Urban Design Associates. Image courtesy of Riverhead Community Development Agency.

Town officials gathered today in the aging asphalt parking lot behind the long-vacant Swezey’s Department Stores buildings to announce the deal they’ve negotiated with Riverhead Enterprises for three buildings on the south side of Main Street.

The buildings at 117 and 121 East Main Street would be razed to make way for a town square. The building at 127 East Main Street would remain in place — extensively renovated. It would “frame” the public space on the east, while the Long Island Science Center, which will occupy a totally renovated Swezey’s building at 111 East Main (adjoining the building at 117), will frame the town square on the west.

The grand plan would utilize county, state and federal grant funding, in combination with some bonding and a public-private partnership that would have new shops and possibly residences developed along a promenade stretching from Main Street to the Peconic Riverfront.

The total price tag for the acquisition of the three properties is $4.85 million, subject to appraisals. Town officials are looking to buy 117 and 121 East Main Street and enter into a six-month option agreement for 127 East Main Street.

Community Development Agency administrator Dawn Thomas, speaking at podium, during a news conference about the town’s plan to purchase the three buildings in the background. Pictured are council members Frank Beyrodt, left, Catherine Kent, Tim Hubbard, Jodi Giglio and Supervisor Yvette Aguiar. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“The concept of public space like this has been talked about for many years and recommended by a host of land use studies and plans,” Community Development administrator Dawn Thomas said.

“The single biggest component to making that happen is property and site control,” she said. Negotiating the letter of intent with Riverhead Enterprises gives the town that control and positions it to obtain grant funding, she said.

Thomas has many irons in the fire when it comes to funding opportunities: a U.S. DOT $18 million grant and a N.Y. Empire State Development $10 million grant being the two biggest pots of money the town is seeking to tap.

The members of the town board are united behind the concept and dedicated to making it happen, Thomas said. “It’s a credit to this town board,” she said.

“This town square is really pivotal to the revitalization of downtown,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said.

“This is very exciting,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “Riverhead is now on the path to a true revitalization effort.”

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, town board liaison to the downtown committee, thanked the committee for its hard work.

“The downtown committee brought Urban Design Associates in and they’ve been instrumental,” Kent said.

The firm was hired to do a “pattern book” for downtown. Thomas said she initially wasn’t sold on the idea, but came to appreciate its value. Barry Long of Urban Design Associates has been a huge help, Thomas said.

“We have seen the success of downtown parks in many areas such as in Greenport and Babylon,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

“This town square, right across from The Suffolk Theater, the promenade as you see on this rendering, the aquarium and science center in close proximity and East End Arts right next door — this will create a community space for downtown that will benefit residents for many years to come,” she said.

The town board, sitting as the governing body of the community development agency is set to vote Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on the proposed acquisition of 117 and 121 East Main Street and an option agreement for 127 East Main Street. The hearing will take place at Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Avenue, at 2:05 p.m. on July 21.

Renderings by Urban Design Associates courtesy of the Riverhead Community Development Agency

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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.