Concept rendering of potential design of town square on East Main Street. Image courtesy of the Town of Riverhead

(Updated 11:30 a.m.) Riverhead Town has won a $10 million grant from New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative program, which will go towards major town-sponsored improvement projects like the town square and transit-oriented development near the railroad station.

Riverhead was a Long Island regional finalist three of the past four years the DRI grant has been offered. This year, the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils received and reviewed grant applications, and had the option to either nominate one community for a $20 million grant, or two communities for $10 million grant each. Riverhead won the award alongside the Village of Amityville, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin announced during a press conference over Zoom Thursday morning.

In its application, Riverhead said it would spend a $20 million award on eight projects. The three largest of these include $4.5 million for site improvements and amenities for the town square project, $4.8 million to implement floodplain mitigation projects downtown and $4.5 million to offset the cost of construction for a public parking garage near the Long Island Rail Road.

In remarks during the press conference, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar thanked Gov. Kathy Hochul, Benjamin, the Empire State Development Corporation and the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council for their investment into Riverhead.

“Because of all your support, we have been able to remove blighted buildings from our downtown area and attract the interests of private developers to a downtown with several shovel-ready projects,” Aguiar said. “Without the support of the State of New York, we would not have been able to acquire and have building blocks that were much needed in order to become shovel-ready. And we are now shovel ready.”

“Unequivocally, Riverhead now has a bright future,” she said.

The town also requested money to support a number of other downtown projects. The application stated that if Riverhead was awarded $20 million, it would allocate $2 million to upgrade and expand the historic Suffolk Theater, $2 million to restore the historic Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, $2 million on paths connecting downtown and the railroad area and $2 million to support the Long Island Science Center. The Science Center purchased the building adjoining the town square on the west for a new home that will include a rooftop planetarium, a lecture hall and a wind and solar exhibit. The science center received a $775,000 grant to expand its facility in Riverhead from Empire State Development in 2019, and in December received $1.12 million to further that development.

The application also says Riverhead would allocate $125,000 to create a new marketing and branding campaign to promote downtown if they won the $20 million award. Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas said today she intended to reduce the allocations by half in the event the town was awarded $10 million rather than $20 million.

“It’s just a dream come true,” Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio said. “And many of us have dreamed for many years of a revitalized downtown, and we thank the Governor and Lieutenant Governor Benjamin and all the people who believed in the beauty of our main street and never lost sight of its potential.”

“The state is incredibly proud to recognize and congratulate Amityville and Riverhead for the work that they’re doing and revitalizing the downtown’s,” Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez said.

“Downtown revitalization is the cornerstone of our state’s local economic development programs because it really concentrates on a specific geographic area and focus is to bring the great downtown’s back into its full vitality,” Rodriguez said.

The current plan for transit-oriented development would create a transportation hub at the Long Island Railroad station, including a multistory parking garage, and new infrastructure to connect that hub to downtown Riverhead.

The town square broke ground in October with the demolition of two blighted buildings the town bought across the street from the Suffolk Theater. The town purchased the two vacant buildings from Riverhead Enterprises in May for $4.85 million, along with a neighboring building at 127 E. Main Street. The town plans to use the DRI funds to renovate and possibly expand the building in partnership with a private developer that will be selected through a competitive process.

The town initially received $800,000 from Empire State Development in late 2019 to kick-start the town square 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. Email: [email protected]