Suffolk Theater co-owner Bob Castaldi presented an updated site plan to the town board last week for a five-story expansion of the theater. He’s requesting the town board initiate a coordinated review of the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act at its next meeting.
The expansion would add 20 feet to the depth of the stage and would provide a much-needed green room, dressing rooms and other backstage space for the theater, Castaldi’s team said. The expansion also includes mixed-use space for 28 market rate apartments — 20 studio and eight one-bedroom units — and 2,970 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
Castaldi has been floating the idea for an expansion to the building since he bought the long-shuttered, 1930s art deco movie theater from the town for $707,000 in 2005. Castaldi purchased property adjoining the north side of the theater from the town in 2006. He renovated and restored the theater for use as a performing arts center, which opened in 2013.
Castaldi initially filed a site plan application for the proposed expansion in 2018 and presented plans to the town board in May 2019. The theater’s consultant for the expansion project, Victor Prusinowski, said the plan has incorporated suggestions from the Architectural Review Board and the Landmarks Preservation Committee. The design, by architect Richard Stott, has to receive final approval from the ARB before a public hearing is set on the site plan.
The Suffolk Theater is host to shows on the weekends, including music and comedy acts. It has a bar and commercial kitchen, offering food and drink to theater-goers and can also be used as a wedding or private event venue.
Prusinowski said the expansion’s design captures more of the “flavor” of downtown Riverhead when compared to other newly added apartment buildings.
The apartments and commercial space will “guarantee future revenue for the operation of the theater,” Prusinowski said, because the performing arts is an “up and down business” that can be crippled by events like the pandemic. The theater was closed for over a year because of the pandemic; it reopened in late August. Prusinowski said people in the entertainment industry have already inquired about renting out the apartments.
The long-term plan is to operate the theater as a nonprofit performing arts organization, under the umbrella of a realty company, that can house theater productions and acting classes, and receive tax-exempt donations, Prusinowski said. The Suffolk Theater is currently a for-profit business that gets a small tax benefit, he said.
The proposed expansion will change the theater’s operation “on steroids,” Castaldi told board members. The theater’s small stage and lack of backstage facilities is extremely limiting.
“This makes the possibilities unlimited,” he said.
The town board was enthusiastic about the plan, which would promise an expansion to arguably one of the largest tourist attractions in the town and the “centerpiece” of its downtown revitalization initiative.
The main concern of the town board and planning aide Greg Bergman was the expansion’s impact on the First Street municipal parking lot. The site plan was based on the old configuration of the lot, before it was renovated to add over 60 spaces during the summer. The town bonded $725,917 to cover the cost of the renovations to First Street and other lots.
Castaldi and Councilman Tim Hubbard, the board’s liaison to the parking district, went back and forth during the meeting about how the expansion might affect the parking lot. In a phone interview today with RiverheadLOCAL, Hubbard said architect and parking district board member Martin Sendlewski had worked around the planned expansion and no parking spaces would be lost, alleviating a concern he had voiced during the meeting.
The theater is in the Riverhead Parking District, and pays district taxes to support the district and secure the right to utilize municipal parking.
The project is seeking Industrial Development Agency benefits, with the biggest being saving on sales taxes on construction materials, Prusinowski said. The plan also shows the availability of solar panel installations for the top of the building.
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