Riverhead Town acquired title today to three Main Street buildings in the heart of downtown where one day within the next few years a town square will connect Main Street and the Peconic Riverfront and become a year-round hub of community.
The town bought three buildings — two long-vacant and deteriorating structures and one occupied by commercial tenants — on the south side of East Main Street opposite the Suffolk Theater from Riverhead Enterprises for $4.85 million. Earlier this year, the town board authorized bonding of $5.5 million to cover the purchase price, site work and demolition costs.
Officials plan to demolish the two vacant buildings at 117 and 121 East Main Street to make way for the town square and renovate and expand the occupied building at 127 East Main Street.
The 127 East Main Street building, along with the building at 111 East Main Street, recently purchased by the Long Island Science Center, will frame the town square will small shops, according to a vision developed by Urban Design Associates in a series of community workshops.
“The town square needs to be lined with active uses, not blank walls,” Urban Design Associates principal Barry Long said today.
The space between the two buildings is envisioned to be a flexible space designed to accommodate a variety of seating arrangements and evnt spaces. It will lead to a green space “terrace” on the riverfront currently improved with an asphalt parking lot. The vision for that space focuses on flexible and versatile event spaces, accommodating an amphitheater and a playground. The transformation of the parking lot is planned for phase two of the project, Long said.
Community members and other stakeholders who participated in the series of planning workshops uniformly want a family-friendly environment that can be utilized year-round, with attractions like a carousel, a playground, a splash pad, an ice rink and spaces to accommodate family-friendly events, such as concerts, art shows, ice sculpture exhibits and a winter holiday market.
The first order of business for Riverhead Town — besides the demolition — is to secure grant funding in order to make the town’s vision a reality. The town plans bring it to fruition through a public-private partnership, with a private entity developing the site and renovating/expanding the building at 127 East Main, community development administrator Dawn Thomas said.
The closing today was an important first step, a foundation upon which everything else is built, according to Thomas.
“Now we have control of the site, and that’s huge,” she said.
The town is in an excellent position to land the multimillion dollar state and federal grants being offered to help fund projects like this, Thomas said. It scored high marks in the last round of both the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which offers a $10 million grant, as well as the federal Department of Transportation grant known as Raise 2021, where $25 million in funding is possible, according to Thomas. Riverhead was awarded an $800,000 grant by Empire State Development in 2019 to do the planning work, including a market study and other items.
“We have spent just about every cent of that $800,000 grant and the return on investment has been great,” Thomas said.
“We have momentum,” Long said. “We’ve had a planning process and a vision for moving forward and it is supported by the board and the community.”
Watch the town square presentation:
The town square was an offshoot of the “pattern book” planning work Long’s firm did for the town and the efforts of the downtown revitalization committee. The application for the $800,000 grant was filed in 2018 and the grant was awarded in 2019.
David Silverman and Scott Gordon of Riverhead Enterprises attended the closing today in Supervisor Yvette Aguiar’s office at Riverhead Town Hall.
Silverman and Gordon said these three buildings represent the last of the company’s holdings downtown — with the exception of the large vacant lot between East End Arts and Riverview Lofts. They’ve been in contract for four years to sell that site — where the Sears, Roebuck and three smaller stores once stood — to Metro Group, Silverman said. (Metro Group has applications pending for a 170-unit apartment building on the site.) They have already sold the building that houses Peconic Ballet Theater, as well as the building at 49 East Main Street, the former home of Robert James Salon, a one-story building formerly occupied by a tax accountant and the building formerly occupied by Hy-Ting Restaurant on West Main Street.
The board of directors of the Long Island Science Center today celebrated the acquisition, saying they are “thrilled and excited” to learn the closing has taken place. The science center plans “a grand new entrance” from the town square to the new 30,000-square-foot building it plans to construct on the property adjoining the town square site on the west. The organization’s new building will feature classroom and exhibit spaces, a recording studio, a rooftop deck with exhibits and an observation area, as well as a a rooftop planetarium and event space.
“Working closely with the Riverhead Community Development Agency and Urban Design Associates to achieve a creative and well-designed layout, the science center has received overwhelming support and encouragement from the Riverhead Town Board,” L.I. Science Center board member Laurence Oxman said.
“After 30 years, finally, Riverhead made history today,” Aguiar said. She thanked Thomas and the staff in the community development department, Joseph Maiorana and Frank Messina.
“Dawn Thomas has worked diligently,” Aguiar said. “She brought the entire town board together. We couldn’t have done this without the effort and support of the entire town board,” she said.
Council members Catherine Kent, Frank Beyrodt and Ken Rothwell stood alongside Aguiar, seated at her desk as she signed documents to complete the sale.
“These are very exciting times for Riverhead,” Beyrodt said.
“The vision has come a long way since the 2018 Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant,” Kent said. She thanked the community development staff, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council for the $800,000 grant and the town’s downtown revitalization committee volunteers.
Kent also thanked deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti for her work to bring the town to the closing table.
Rothwell thanked the community development staff and told them they are “amazing,” adding,”Thank you, supervisor, for pushing this through.”
“The next press conference will be when we demolish those buildings and open Main Street to the riverfront,” Aguiar said. That would be happening “soon,” she said.
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