The building at 117 E. Main St. Riverhead wants to demolish to make way for the new town square. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town has reached an agreement with the New York State Historic Preservation Office to allow demolition of a historic building on East Main Street to make way for the planned town square, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced today.

The building at 117 East Main Street, one of the former Swezey’s Department Stores locations, was designated a “contributing resource” when the Main Street historic district was listed in the National Register in 2012. The building was a contributing resource because of its facade and front windows, according to Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Richard Wines.

The town is now seeking to have the long-vacant, blighted building removed as a contributing asset. But it needs the State Historic Preservation Office to agree, so state and federal grants the town hopes to obtain would not be jeopardized.

“Upon reviewing a substantive amount of documentation compiled by the Community Development Department, SHPO agreed that there are no prudent and/or feasible alternatives to demolition,” Aguiar said in a statement.

The State Historic Preservation Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rendering of a town square in the center of Main Street’s business district. Image: Urban Design Associates

The town board authorized the purchase of the building and two adjacent buildings on the south side of East Main Street from Riverhead Enterprises for $4.85 million. The town closed on the deal in May. Officials plan to demolish to demolish two of the buildings — at 117 and 121 East Main Street — and work with a private entity to renovate and expand the third building, located at 127 East Main Street, a two-story building is occupied by commercial tenants on both floors.

The state has agreed all three buildings can be razed, if the town deems it necessary, Aguiar said.

Plans for the town square, being developed by consultant Urban Design Associates, envision the building at 127 East Main and the building adjoining 117 East Main on the west — which was purchased by the L.I. Science Center — to “frame” the town square with small shops. The newly created green space will provide a connection between Main Street and the riverfront.

Representatives of the State Historic Preservation Office visited Riverhead last month to meet with town officials and tour the site.

“The Town of Riverhead is beyond excited that this transformative project can now proceed in earnest,” Aguiar said today. “The State Historic Preservation Office was cooperative, reasonable and receptive to working with Riverhead to be sure that a mutually beneficial solution was reached,” she said.

The supervisor thanked Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, a former Riverhead councilwoman and former longtime town board liaison to the landmarks committee, for arranging the visit from SHPO.

“As Riverhead’s representative in Albany, I felt it was my responsibility to help facilitate productive dialog with SHPO,” Giglio said. “I am very confident that Riverhead Town Square will significantly contribute to the economic rebirth of Downtown Riverhead and the Long Island region,”

Landmarks Chairman Wines said the landmarks commission is pleased SHPO agreed there is no feasible alternative to the demolition of the buildings to make way for the town square.

“We look forward to working with them on this important project and share their goal to make sure it fits in and is compatible with our historic downtown architecture,” Wines said.
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The next step is SHPO developing a Letter of Resolution that will document the alternatives evaluated and the mitigation measures to be carried out to minimize historical impacts, Community Development Director Dawn Thomas said.

“These measures may include remembrance of 117 East Main Street to SHPO standards, salvage of defining features, creation and installation of a memorial plaque commemorating 117 East Main Street and its significance to the historic district, and continued consultation with SHPO as construction of the Town Square progresses,” according to a press release issued by the supervisor today.

The primary goal of the town square project is to reorient the pedestrian focus from the traditional Main Street to the Peconic Riverwalk, according to officials.

“The town intends to repurpose some existing town-owned riverfront parking as public gathering areas, with performance spaces, splash fountains, permeable brick/stone pathways and rain gardens. These rain/river friendly areas will provide amenities for community members while also helping capture the occasional flooding experienced near the Peconic River. In addition, the site will include interactive environmental learning stations,” the town press release said.

Riverhead Town applied for a multimillion federal grant in July and continues to aggressively pursue other federal, state and county funding opportunities to further economic redevelopment goals, Thomas said. She said it is likely a public-private partnership will be necessary to fully develop the town square.

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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.