The buildings at 121 East Main Street, left, and 117 East Main Street, slated for demolition to make way for the town square. Photos: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town is soliciting bids for the demolition of two buildings on Main Street to make way for the new town square. The board approved the bid notice during a special meeting today.

People in the Town Hall meeting room, including members of the town board, erupted into applause after the vote, which means the town square project would be breaking ground.

The two buildings, 117 and 121 East Main St., the former location of Swezey’s Department Store and Twin Fork Bicycles, were purchased by the town along with a neighboring building for $4.85 million from Riverhead Enterprises in May intended for demolition. 

117 East Main St. was originally listed as a “contributing resource” to the historic district by the state and federal government, making it risky for the town to demolish and still secure the grants needed to develop the property into the town square. The New York State Historic Preservation Office gave the town permission to demolish the building earlier this month.

“It is only in the last year and a half that the Riverhead Town Board took a bold action to make the investment in downtown and acquire the necessary properties,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.

Aguiar gave special thanks to Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas and the staff of the Community Development Department, which she said worked throughout the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic to continue the project’s progress.

The bid will remain open until Sept. 23. After the contract is awarded and signed, work will begin for the demolition immediately after, Thomas said.

“This will allow us to clear the site,” Thomas said. “We want to get some seeding in there so that we can have some grass before the end of the year, before it gets too cold and so people can really see what this is going to look like in the future.”

The demolition of the buildings will also help with the town’s applications for the various grants they are pursuing from the state, Thomas said. The town applied for a $25 million Federal Alternatives Transportation grant in mid-July and is waiting to hear the results. The CDA is also in the process of completing the application for New York State’s $20 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant for the town square and transit oriented development near the LIRR station; the application is due Sept. 15.

“I think that it’s really a great message that you’re sending by doing this and keeping the project moving forward together as a unit,” Thomas said.

Councilman Tim Hubbard agreed. “It’s just such a good thing to get going so swiftly,” he said, mentioning that he often jokes about the timeline for such projects which are often delayed. “It may actually happen this fall,” he said.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent took a moment to thank the downtown revitalization committee, the town’s development partner on the town square project Urban Design Associates and Deputy Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudenti, who Kent said has been spearheading the legal side of the project.

“I do think the town square will transform our downtown area. We are finally looking to take advantage of our riverfront, which is what everybody has been talking about in Riverhead — I don’t know, since I was in elementary school, people have been talking about it. So it’s good to see it finally happening,” Kent said.

“I applaud all the efforts that brought us to this point,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said. “And I’m humbled to actually be a part of it, too, just to say that this happened while I was here and I was able to help facilitate in even a small way.”

“I think you send a good signal out just today to our residents to let them know we have a special town board meeting, that means we’re forging ahead on this, and we’re making progress and there’s no time delay,” Rothwell said.

Thomas said the town has already heard of a few contractors willing to take on the demolition. The town is required by a grant approved in 2019 to hire minority and women-owned business enterprises, she said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]