Downtown Riverhead's Grangebel Park during the Oktoberfest event last month. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Town is a Long Island Region finalist in the New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant competition, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced during a town board work session yesterday.

The town has applied for a $20 million grant from the DRI program, in its fifth round of funding this year. Launched in 2016 — but sidelined by COVID in 2020 — the DRI program has provided $10 million grants to one community in each of the state’s 10 regions. This year, the program accepted applications for $10 million and $20 million awards.

The Regional Economic Development Council in each region receives and reviews the grant applications, decides on a small number of finalists among the applicants and conducts interviews with the finalists. Each Regional Economic Development Council nominates one community in its region for the award. This year, though, the regional council may nominate two communities for grants of $10 million each, or one community for a $20 million grant. The final grant awards are made by the governor.

Riverhead has been a finalist in three of the four years the DRI grant has been offered and has gotten good feedback from REDC members about the town’s downtown revitalization plans and has gotten other grant funding from Empire State Development. In 2019, Riverhead landed an $800,000 grant award to help the town establish a town square on Main Street.

Town officials learned the town’s DRI application was moving forward to the next level, when the L.I. Regional Economic Development Council invited them to give a presentation in a Zoom interview with the council.

Riverhead Community Development Director Dawn Thomas and Community Development staff members Joe Maiorana and Frank Messina made the presentation to the economic development officials from inside the Suffolk Theater Tuesday, Thomas said yesterday in a interview at Town Hall.

“We made a hard pitch for the $20 million award,” Thomas said. “We check all the boxes. If they’re going to give anybody the $20 million grant, I think we’re very deserving of it.”

“It was a laser-focused presentation,” Maiorana said.

Riverhead has developed a variety of downtown revitalization plans, spanning almost 30 years, the town noted in its application, which lists 18 such plans and studies completed between 1993 and 2021.

“DRI funding would serve as an immediate catalyst to economic redevelopment as a result of project readiness, previous plans, active and ongoing community engagement/involvement, the project area’s nomination as an Opportunity Zone, as well as the distinct characteristics of Downtown Riverhead,” the application states.

The town proposed spending a $20 million DRI grant on eight projects:

  • Establish a town square – $4.5 million for site improvements and amenities.
  • Offset the cost of construction of a public parking garage in the Transportation Oriented Development District – up to $4.5 million.
  • Implement recommendations of the Flood Plain Management Study prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers – up to $4.875 million
  • Upgrade and expand the historic Suffolk Theater’s facilities to enhance arts and cultural assets in Downtown Riverhead – up to $2 million.
  • Expand the Long Island Science Center to an improved facility adjacent to Riverhead Town Square – up to $2 million.
  • Refurbish and restore the historic Vail Leavitt Music Hall, constructed in 1881 – up to $2 million.
  • Establish new pedestrian/bicycle pathways, improved crosswalks, and lighting and unified signage themes and connect to alternative transportation circuit/TOD – up to $2 million.
  • Create a new marketing, creative placemaking and branding campaign to promote Downtown Riverhead as a family-friendly destination and make the public aware of all of Riverhead’s amenities and attractions – $125,000

“There is no other place more ready to immediately undertake decisive action to create an active, desirable downtown with a strong sense of place than historic Downtown Riverhead,” the application states.

Thomas said the DRI grant awards are likely to be announced fairly soon. COVID-19 delayed the timeframe of the DRI process this year by two months. In the past awards had been announced in late August or early September, she said. If the process is extended by two months, the awards could be announced at the end of this month or early next.

The town has also applied for a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grant program.

The eligibility requirements of RAISE allow project sponsors at the state and local levels to obtain funding for multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional projects that are more difficult to support through traditional DOT programs, the RAISE Grant website states.

According to the town’s application, RAISE grant funding would be used to support the creation of transit-oriented development near the railroad station, the town square, which will connect pedestrians to the Peconic River and the construction of improved, signalized illuminated walkways and bike paths throughout the downtown area using a Complete Streets model that will allow pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists attractive, safe and functional access to town’s largest points of interest.

Thomas said the RAISE grant awards are expected to be announced Nov. 22.

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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.