The vacant Kmart building last week. Photo: Peter Blasl

Riverhead Town officials are considering leasing the former Kmart building for use as a municipal complex.

The town would be able to consolidate almost all its departments in the 106,000-square-foot building, including the offices presently housed in Town Hall on Howell Avenue, Town Hall West on Pulaski Street and the senior center in Aquebogue, as well as the building and planning departments, the town historian and even the Riverhead ambulance headquarters, Councilman Tim Hubbard said.

The Feil Organization, which manages the site, has had drawings made showing preliminary plans for use of the space, the councilman said in an interview last week. The property owner would do the renovations to the town’s specifications, he said.

Hubbard said he has met with department heads and representatives of the ambulance corps to review the drawings and get their input.

The Riverhead Justice Court would be relocated to the present town hall building and the police department would be able to expand into the portion of its headquarters building that is currently occupied by the justice court, Hubbard said.

“We would move everything except the water department, sewer department and the recreation department over there,” he said. “We can have basically one-stop shopping. It would be much more efficient for town government and more convenient for residents.”

If the plan comes to fruition, the town would then look to sell the buildings being vacated, Hubbard said. It would also look to sell the existing ambulance corps headquarters, located on Osborn Avenue just south of Route 58.

The town would probably enter into a long-term lease with an option to buy the site, according to the councilman. The terms have not been negotiated, as discussions are still at a very early stage, he said. In fact, the town board has not yet discussed the idea as a board, Hubbard said, though some town board members have had walk-throughs of the vacant retail store.

“We’ve gone through with our engineers. They brought their architects out,” Hubbard said.

The former Kmart site is “a good location, pretty centrally located,” Hubbard said.

“It’s a big plus that we can fit the ambulance barn there.”

The ambulance corps outgrew its current headquarters one ago and RVAC officers have been asking the town for years to provide a larger facility.

A plan presented to the town board by RVAC would cost about $5 million to construct, Hubbard said.

But the driving factor is the town’s dire need to do something about its justice court. The court does not have the space to handle the caseload it sees and has major safety issues. The facility’s numerous security deficiencies were documented in 2006 by the N.Y. Unified Court System’s public safety department, which completed a security assessment of the court.

Successive town boards have been discussing how best to deal with the court’s space issues and safety concerns since at least 2003. The town has spent thousands of dollars on plans for renovations of its buildings on Howell Avenue as well as plans for renovations of the N.Y. State Armory on Route 58, which was deeded to the town in 2011 specifically for use as a police and justice court complex. But the ultimate price tag of the necessary renovations at the armory — an estimated $13 million in 2014 — was more than the town board was willing to commit to funding.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said today she likes the location and the idea of repurposing an existing, vacant building.

She, too, stressed the need to deal with the justice court situation, which she called a “major safety issue.”

“When I first got in office, I got a tour [of the justice court facility] and I was frankly stunned by the issues and the problems there. It is a crisis waiting to happen,” Kent said.

“It’s been kicked down the road a long time and has to be addressed. The space they’re working in is outrageous. It’s something that should not be put off any longer,” she said.

The plans for the Kmart site could be a good solution for the town’s space needs, Kent said. She said she did a walk-through at the site and wants to hear more.

“I haven’t been privy to any discussions about negotiations,” Kent said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said she intends to bring the subject before the entire town board next week in executive session.

“A few months ago, I tasked Tim Hubbard with looking at the Kmart location as a possibility and he has been working on it,” Aguiar said.

“The concept is great. We need to ensure that it’s done prudently and with financial stability,” she said.

Discussions are still in very early stages, according to the supervisor. “There is no permanency of any decision being made,” Aguiar said.

Kent said while the details of ongoing negotiations may need to be discussed in executive session, she thinks the board should discuss the concept at an open work session, so the public can hear what’s being proposed.

The site on the southwest corner of Route 58 and Northville Turnpike, known as East End Commons, was developed in the 1990s by Wilbur Breslin. The vacant building being looked at by the town was occupied by Kmart from the time it was built until the fall of 2018, when the store was shuttered by parent company Sears Holdings. It has been vacant since. The other retail building on the site is occupied by BJ’s Wholesale Club.

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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.