Rendering of a town square in the center of Main Street's business district. Image: Urban Design Associates

An advisory committee is poised to recommend projects at and around the new town square receive the bulk of the Riverhead’s $10 million downtown revitalization grant after a work session Tuesday.

The advisory committee, formally known as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative Local Planning Committee, is in the process of developing a strategic plan to determine how to best spend the $10 million grant awarded by the state in January.

The grant must be used for projects key to downtown revitalization. So far, 14 projects have applied for the grant.

On Tuesday, the committee determined that four of those projects will not receive its recommendation for funding. The committee ended the meeting with an unofficial short list of 10 proposals, totaling $12.3 million, mostly centered at and around the new town square. 

[See prior coverage: Town adds four proposals for $10 million downtown grant funding, bringing total number of projects seeking money to 13]

Proposals for funding the new town square have been split up among three town-sponsored projects: the town square open space plaza stretching from Main Street to the Peconic River, the waterfront park/playground, and the waterfront amphitheater. 

The town square’s town-designated master developer J. Petrocelli Design Associates, is no longer requesting funds for the town square project. The boutique hotel building proposed by Petrocelli for the east side of the square is still planned, though the developer is not requesting funds through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

As a part of the original proposal, J. Petrocelli Development Associates would take ownership of portions of the land being developed, but would be responsible for the maintenance of the town square public space. Now, officials said the town will retain the land it owns for the public part of the square.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the committee reviewed the 14 proposals with Will Quattlebaum, an associate with Perkins Eastman. Perkins Eastman is a national planning and design firm hired by the state to assist Riverhead’s advisory committee with developing its strategic plan for the grant funds. Perkins Eastman rated the projects on a number of factors, including committee members’ opinions and public feedback, project feasibility, project readiness, economic impact and the support for downtown revitalization goals established by the state.

The committee then used these ratings to evaluate the amount of money requested by each proposal and seems likely to recommend 10 of them, including all the town-sponsored projects at the town square.

The remaining four projects were removed from the committee’s short-list of recommended proposals. These include the Vail Leavitt Music Hall renovations, Griffing Avenue streetscape improvements, a downtown wayfinding and safety program, and pedestrianizing the street between the proposed Landmark building and Lucha Cubano.

If any of the proposals removed from the committee’s current recommendations garners enough public support during the next public input meeting, planners will notify the committee during its next work session, according to state officials.

The committee will submit its final recommendations to the state in a strategic investment plan, which will be drafted by the end of July. The plan should recommend a variety of large and small scale projects totaling around $12 million to $16 million, officials said. The state will make its selection of projects based on the plan in late September or early October, according to Jeanette Rausch, a revitalization specialist with the Department of State.

The advisory committee will host one more meeting for public input on July 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Long Island Aquarium on Main Street. It will then draft s strategic investment plan with final recommendations at a work session July 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.

Here is a rundown of the conversations surrounding the projects during the meeting.

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

Town square plaza

Requested $3,622,940, ended meeting at full amount

Committee members consistently said the town square project was the number one priority for downtown revitalization.

One of three town-sponsored town square projects, the plaza, will be elevated to the level of Main Street and stretch from Main Street to the riverfront. The project would include open space improvements, planting, street furniture, lighting, elevators and stairs to the waterfront, and a public restroom facility.

At $3.6 million, the plaza project would be the biggest potential funding request.

Quattlebaum said the town square development was divided into three separate projects so the committee and state can better vet each project individually and determine whether it will be funded.

The design of the new Riverhead Town Square has changed dramatically since J. Petrocelli Design Associates was designated the town’s master developer for the town square in April. 

[See prior coverage: Town Board names Petrocelli master developer of town square]

The biggest change is the removal of a proposed two-story mixed-use building on the west side of the square, which Petrocelli proposed would contain a firehouse museum, retail space and communal work space. 

[See prior coverage: Riverhead poised to name Petrocelli its master developer for town square project]

The building was not part of the original design plan created by the town’s downtown planning consultants, Urban Design Associates. That original design called for the Long Island Science Center building on the west side to have its main entrance on the square. The proposal referenced during Tuesday’s conversation is closer to UDA’s design.

Waterfront Amphitheater and Resiliency

Requested $1,501,000, ended meeting at full amount

The second component of the town square project is the riverfront amphitheater.

The amphitheater would be constructed adjacent to the town square as a space for outdoor concerts and shows. 

It would be located on the southeast area of the square on properties currently owned by the town where Petrocelli’s boutique hotel is proposed and on the East End Arts campus. 

The amphitheater would be constructed on a raised ground plane and act as a coastal resiliency wall. 

“The East End Arts buildings are currently low and will need to be elevated,” Quattlebaum said. “And so the waterfront amphitheater would become part of the resiliency of that, tying into some of the existing buildings and then creating an elevated platform for the East End Arts buildings and protecting them.”

Community Development Director Dawn Thomas said if the project does not receive all the funding requested by the committee, the town may be able to partner with a sponsor, such as the county or PSEG Long Island, to fund the rest of the project. She also said there are other state grants the town can apply for to fund the project.

Waterfront Park, Playground and Resiliency

Requested $1,697,710, ended meeting at full amount

The last component of the town square project is a public playground and park on the riverfront on the south-west area of the town square. The park would consist of a splash pad area with fountains, playgrounds and open space.

The park would also be constructed on a raised ground plane and act as a coastal resiliency wall. The design and programming of the park would be in collaboration with the science center.

“I’d just like to emphasize the importance of the playground component of the town square project,” committee co-chair Dave Kapell said. “What you want to do is attract families, and kids need something that’s going to appeal to them.” 

“I think the playground is the trail of breadcrumbs to the river, which is what you want people to do and experience,” Thomas said.

The Railroad Avenue view of a proposed mixed-use building on the site of the municipal parking lot opposite the Riverhead train station. Rendering: Torti Gallas + Partners

Transportation Oriented Development

Requested $5,260,000, ended meeting at $2 million

The Railroad Avenue transit-oriented development project, proposed by town-designated master developers RXR and Georgica Green, submitted the largest request for funds at $5.8 million. The sponsor contribution is also the highest of all projects at $119.8 million.

The Railroad Avenue proposal includes a new mixed-use development with 243 apartments and ground floor commercial space on the town-owned Court Street parking lot across from the Riverhead railroad station. The proposal also includes the construction of a new pedestrian plaza on the property between the building and the train station.

[See prior coverage: Riverhead taps master developer for Railroad Avenue area redevelopment]

After conversations with LIRR and MTA officials, grant funding will no longer be applied toward the rehabilitation of the train station, Quattlebaum said. The proposal originally envisioned the station would be converted into a café.

Quattlebaum said it isn’t yet clear which parts of the project would utilize grant funds and which parts would require contributions from the developers.

“They are making substantial public space improvements to the plaza area between the train station and their proposed building, and they have proposed improvements to the streets around their building,” he said. “But they haven’t broken it out as cleanly as saying, you know, the DRI funding is just for public space improvements and their own funds are for the building itself.”

[See prior coverage: Riverhead approves master developer for Railroad Avenue area redevelopment]

The project is rated highly in feasibility, economic impact and project readiness by the consultants and highly favored by committee members. 

Committee members discussed whether it is important to fund this project over others that applied, given the financial commitments that the developers are making to the project. 

“Those guys were ready, willing and able to jump in on their $100 million project with the hopes that this grant came, but was not dependent or, or relying on any of this funding,” said Bryan DeLuca, the executive director of the company that owns the Long Island Aquarium and a co-founder of the East End Tourism Alliance. “And it’s nice that [the funding] is there and they can apply, but I think it’s very secondary, or tertiary because the town square will attract new business, but it has to have the flanks — and the science center needs support.”

Rausch said the state doesn’t usually fund project requests over $5 million. 

“I think five is a very high number for them,” Thomas said. She said the town and DRI staff will have a discussion with RXR and Georgica Green Ventures about the number the committee reached during the work session. 

Others said it was important for grant money to go towards the project, given the blighted state of the area.

Kapell called the project “critically important” to the downtown revitalization project. “That’s one of the most depressed parts of downtown and you’ve got a highly competent developer who is proposing to improve it,” he said.

Andrew Mitchell, the president of the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation, agreed.

“Clearly the developer has access to a great deal of capital through the market,” Mitchell said. “But I think both in terms of ensuring the credibility of the town and the state in partnering with someone of this magnitude,” it is important to fund the project, he said.

Riverhead Community Development Project Supervisor Joseph Maiorana said that the town square should get the lion’s share of the money, but this particular project is also “transformative.”

“If we don’t fix the worst area of our downtown, nothing else works, because that area is so bad right now. The carryover has ruined everything else,” he said. “So that’s why we feel so blessed that we’re ahead of schedule. We have a master developer already chosen to get that area underway soon. But it still needs a pretty sizable award in order to kickstart it and to get the public amenities in the TOD that we most definitely need.”

Long Island Science Center

Requested $2,560,000, ended meeting at $1 million

A new Long Island Science Center is planned for the west side of the town square and would include a planetarium, maker-spaces, a functional agritech and wind/solar exhibit and STEM programming. 

The current plan for the science center building also includes multiple commercial spaces for a gift shop and the relocation of the East Main Street bar Craft’d, which would be displaced when the building currently on the east side of the town square site is demolished to make way for Petrocelli’s boutique hotel.

The Long Island Science Center will open have its entrance on the new town square, as originally planned, after the two-story building proposed for the west side of the square was cut from Petrocelli’s plan. The science center applied for funding to make facade improvements to the side of the building facing the town square.

The science center was consistently touted during the conversation as one of the most important projects by multiple committee members, given its proximity to the town square and its status as a family-friendly and tourist-based attraction. 

“The science center’s activation on that side [of the square] is critical,” DeLuca said. “Otherwise, we would have a big blank wall if they don’t have support — with the exception of Craft’d being on Main Street and wrapping around maybe a little bit towards a square.”

Officials identified a potential problem with the Long Island Science Center involving funding. Quattlebaum said the science center has told the consultants it has secured $12 million for the project in state-backed loans. “We’re still trying to get clarification from them on what those [loans] are, how that’s going to work, exactly what that entails. So we don’t yet have a good sense that those funds are necessarily in place yet,” Quattlebaum said.

The science center has received roughly $2 million in state grants for the new location since buying the building in February 2020, although the group has not yet come before the town board for approvals to renovate the building.

[See prior coverage: Long Island Science Center buying former Swezey’s building on East Main Street]

This uncertainty has made the project less feasible, Rausch said, as the state wants to avoid giving money to projects that aren’t ready to be built. 

“So it might be a great project and even good for the DRI but if the project isn’t ready to go, you know shovel ready, then it might not be a highest priority,” Rausch said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar concurred. “How much have they had? I think they should be transparent with us. Just like the other private interests are telling us how much they’re willing to put forward. Whether it’s private money or public money, I think that should be available to this committee, and it hasn’t,” she said.

“We don’t want money sitting there that’s not going to the town square though, that’s concerning,” Aguiar said. “Yeah, they are a partner and we see where they are and how far they’re in the project, and I think we should be looking at the numbers, not necessarily who everybody supports. And, you know, we should start looking and chopping.”

Long Island Science Center President Larry Oxman said in a call today that the comments during the meeting were a result of a miscommunication between the town and the science center. He said the science center is in the process of raising private funding for the entirety of the project.

“It’s not how much we have. It really comes down to an all or nothing type of deal. I mean, the entire project is quite costly. So we’re looking for funding for the entire project,” Oxman said.

“I understand the supervisor’s concerns, and I agree with her that we should sit down and meet with her again,” he said.

Oxman called the committee’s conversation about the science center “very positive.” “It was good to hear some of the members really talk positively about the science center,” he said.

Main Street Improvements

Requested $1,500,000. ended meeting at $1,000,000

A town-sponsored project would enhance a stretch of East Main Street between Roanoke and Maple Avenues by adding curb bump outs, two raised crosswalks, and new street trees and landscaping. 

The proposal would also remove a few parking spots around the crosswalks from downtown, adding rain gardens and other landscaping items to “add character” to the street, Quattlebaum said.

“Obviously, you know, this is something that would have to be further designed,” Quattlebaum said.

Quattlebaum said the DRI team met with the state Department of Transportation to determine the feasibility of the project and they said they would have some issues with plowing the roads. “All of this would have to be approved by DOT before it would go through,” Quattlebaum said.

“At this stage, it’s really just kind of coming up with the right mix of elements and the right budget for the project,” Quattlebaum said.

Riverhead Free Library

Requested $206,500, ended meeting at full amount

The Riverhead Free Library is proposing the construction of a new entrance and walkway on Court Street. The proposal includes a new gateway, lighting, landscaping and pathways to improve the frontage to Main Street. The new entrance would include a welcome center with information about local businesses and events.

The proposal also includes a new sign facing the Center Drive bridge that could be used to advertise town events.

The library told the committee it will contribute $200,000 of matching funds to the project, making it highly feasible and shovel-ready. However, the project scored low with the committee for generating new investment, transformative potential and alignment with the town’s vision and goals.

Suffolk Theater Improvement

Requested $3,000,828, ended meeting at $1 million

The Suffolk Theater, which currently has a site plan application approved by the town board, is proposing an addition to the existing theater building that will include the expansion of its stage, the addition of green room and back of the house functions, and a five-story mixed use expansion with 28 residential apartments and commercial space.

The project ranks high in all the consultant’s criteria and has high support from committee members. The project has high feasibility with the sponsor contributing $10.2 million in matching funds. The DRI funding would go towards the expansion of the theater. 

Committee members talked about the Suffolk Theater as a tangential component of the town square and a large part of downtown, and advocated for the theater to be put on the list for funding.

“The extension of the Suffolk Theater is critical to the success of Main Street and in particular, the town square,” Maiorana said. “I think that it has the housing component, which is important, but in large part we chose those three buildings as the focal points of the town square because it was accented by the Suffolk Theater.” 

“At the present time, because they lack green space and a suitable stage, if it wasn’t for their generous owner — who is probably operating at a loss today — I’m not sure without the expansion what the long-term success of the Suffolk Theater is,” Maiorana continued. “And if we were going to allocate funds for a theater, I’d rather allocate as much as possible to the Suffolk Theater versus the Vail Leavitt, because the Suffolk Theater is an operating entertainment hub and the expansion — I can’t emphasize it enough — it’s critical that he is able to expand for the long term success of that theater.”

Thomas added that the Suffolk Theater is ready to expand, as the expansion’s site plan application has already been approved.

Riverhead Rowing Facility

Requested $250,000, ended meeting at full amount

What was originally proposed by East End Rowing as a fixed boat house is now a smaller scale town-sponsored project for a floating boat house. Originally planned for the end of the town square promenade, the boat house would now be located further east on the Peconic riverfront. Quattlebaum said the state has also requested the facility by ADA accessible, which would make it the first of its kind on the East End.

“We had initially been discussing the idea of including the rental component in this — rentals for things like kayaks or paddle boards. And given that there are some adjacent facilities in existence already at the marina, and further down to the west, and that there may be some kind of a future component of the town square that includes rentals for those things. We felt like this was not the right location for a rental component. And so this would really just become a facility for rowing,” Quattlebaum said.

Quattlebaum said members of the committee have talked about the project with the Department of Environmental Conservation and they are supportive of the project.

Downtown Art Projects

Requested $250,000, ended meeting at full amount

The Riverhead Business Improvement District and East End Tourism Alliance have proposed funding for five to seven permanent light sculptures in Grangebel Park. The sculptures would be a part of the Reflextions: Art in the Park exhibit, although the proposal has been expanded to include the whole DRI area.

“There would be RFP processes to select artists for the projects, and the projects would be built and installed using DRI funding,” Quattlebaum said.

The project is feasible and would begin quickly. 

Vail Leavitt Music Hall

Requested $200,000, ended meeting with no funding

The Vail Leavitt Music Hall is proposing improvements to the existing theater building, including renovations and upgrades to its first floor black box theater, replacing the fixed seating in the main theater with movable seating, soundproofing the building’s windows, and improvements to the building to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. 

“A few issues with the project we have still they’re still in the process of trying to get a building assessment and it’s very hard to kind of verify everything that they want to do being possible without having that assessment. Although having reduced the scope, it seems more feasible now,” Quattlebaum said.

He also said it doesn’t seem feasible that the theater would be able to accomplish everything proposed with $200,000, especially in the current environment.

The project has an overall low score from the consultants due to low feasibility and low committee support.

Pedestrianized Street

Requested $800,000, ended meeting with no funding

This town-sponsored project would add paving, plantings, trees, street furniture to the unnamed road leading to the riverfront between the long-vacant West Marine building and Lucha Cubano. The project had low support among committee members and was taken off the list.The project was originally proposed by the developer Wayne Steck, who is proposing the construction of a four-story mixed-use building, dubbed “Landmark at Riverhead,” on the former West Marine site. The project was changed to a town-sponsored project because, Quattlebaum said, the consultants “haven’t really been able to understand the sponsor contribution that he put forward into it.”

[See prior coverage: Town board discusses downtown development proposals, parking impacts]

Griffing Avenue Improvements

Requested $1,200,000, ended meeting with no funding

This town-sponsored project would include streetscape improvements to Griffing Avenue, including burying power lines and adding street trees. Officials said the road is a connector between Main Street and the Railroad Avenue area. 

“This would kind of help the character of the street tremendously, help make it more walkable, help get people to the train station,” Quattlebaum said.

Committee members said the project was not as much of a priority as others and there were no objections to strike the project for the list.

Downtown Wayfinding and Safety

Requested $400,000, ended meeting with no funding

This town-sponsored project would improve the navigation of downtown Riverhead by increasing the funding of the current wayfinding program and implementing a signage program around the downtown area.

“We’re leaving the scope open-ended enough so things like educational signage along the waterfront and for historical buildings can be included as part of that,” Quattlebaum said.

The project had medium support among committee members, but was not deemed a priority. 

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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]