Rendering of one version of the proposed town square, prepared by Urban Design Associates. Image courtesy of Riverhead Community Development Agency.

The two Main Street buildings coming down to make way for Riverhead’s town square have a date with the wrecking ball Monday.

J. Petrocelli Contracting will be taking down 117 and 121 E. Main Street, the former locations of Swezey’s Department Store and Twin Fork Bicycles, respectively. The town board awarded the demolition bid to Petrocelli at a special board meeting Sept. 30. Petrocelli bid $965,000 on the job.

Riverhead Town purchased the two vacant buildings and a neighboring building at 127 E. Main Street from Riverhead Enterprises in May for $4.85 million.

The demolition has been set for Monday, Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas said today. At the time the bid was posted Thomas said the demolition would allow the town to get grass into the space before the end of the year “so people can really see what this is going to look like in the future.”

The town board last week authorized the supervisor to execute an agreement regarding the demolition with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Empire State Development. The buildings are within Riverhead’s Main Street Historic District — and 117 East Main Street was a “contributing resource” in the district. That could have been a complication impeding the demolition/town square plan, but the historic preservation office, after a site visit, determined that “no feasible or prudent alternatives exist that would avoid or lessen the adverse impacts to historic resources” to make way for the town square.

The historic preservation office later agreed to the demolition, which allows the town to pursue state and federal funding sources — among them the coveted $20 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant Riverhead is seeking. But the office’s consent comes with conditions attached.

“We’re going to talk in generalities at this point because we haven’t finalized the design for the town square, but ultimately some of the historic architectural features from those buildings will be retained and reutilized in the new development,” Thomas told the board on Thursday.

The conditions in the letter of resolution with Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation puts the town and the office in partnership with the town square’s design, Thomas said. The main objective of the agreement’s conditions is to preserve Main Street’s street wall. The letter states that additions to the square which affect the street wall are subject to the office’s review. The design and location of any new buildings in the space are also subject to review to maintain the “historical character” of the Riverhead Historic District.

Options for the town to preserve the street wall mentioned in the agreement includes street trees, an archway, ornamental street lighting and patio lighting to create an “urban room.” 

Other elements to reinforce the street wall could include the construction of an 18- to 22-inch high seat wall along the entrance of the square, using materials salvaged from the demolished buildings, or large letters spelling out “Riverhead”installed along the sidewalk.

The plan for a street wall may work against one of the main objectives of the town square: opening up Main Street to the riverfront. The current renderings of the town square design by Urban Design Associations articulate that vision and include an open entrance to the town square with an unobstructed view from the riverfront to the Suffolk Theater marquee.

Thomas told RiverheadLOCAL the agreement will not impact that vision. “I think objectively they understand the goal is to see the river and see the theater, so whatever we agree on won’t be blocking that view,” she said.

The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation declined comment on how the mitigation measures may affect the town square’s design.

The town will also be required to develop commemorative materials on the site for public display. Thomas said the buildings will be incorporated into the Landmarks Preservation Committee’s virtual historic trail project. 

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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.