Supervisor Yvette Aguiar reviews a conceptual drawing of the new town square with Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo on Feb. 14, 2020. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Last week’s long-anticipated announcement of the state’s funding decisions for the Town of Riverhead Downtown Revitalization Initiative $10 million grant left some stakeholders elated and others scratching their heads.

Eight of the 10 projects submitted by the Local Planning Committee got a piece of the town’s DRI grant. In all, $9.7 million was awarded, with the remainder covering costs of consulting services provided by firms hired by the state.

The Local Planning Committee recommended funding totaling $13.4 million for the 10 projects submitted to the Department of State for consideration, following the state agency’s instruction to recommend more funding than was available for awards. So there was an expectation that some projects would not be funded or that some projects would be funded at levels less than what the LPC recommended.

One of the projects that received no funding is a project widely considered essential to Riverhead’s revitalization initiative: the Long Island Science Center, which owns the building on the west side of the town square.

The planned renovation and redevelopment of the long-vacant, blighted building at 111 E. Main Street, the former home of Swezey’s Department Stores, was hailed by Supervisor Yvette Aguiar as a “heart transplant” for downtown Riverhead in February 2020. At a press conference in the L.I. Science Center’s temporary quarters on the ground floor of Summerwind Square, officials unveiled concept plans for the science center and a new town square.

The Local Planning Committee, constituted to put together recommendations for spending the $10 million DRI grant to the Town of Riverhead announced by the governor in January, recommended $1 million in funding for the L.I. Science Center project. The organization had previously been designated to receive state grants in the amounts of $775,000 and $1.12 million to assist with the redevelopment project.

The decision makers in the N.Y. Department of State, which runs the Downtown Revitalization Initiative program, passed over the science center for additional funding.

The funding decisions were announced by N.Y. Secretary of State Robert Rodrigues last week in a press conference in Amityville, the Long Island Region’s other $10 million DRI recipient.

“In a nutshell, we were very surprised,” said Larry Oxman, president of The Place for Learning, the science center’s corporate name. “We thought that this was a supported project,” Oxman said. “We were very, very surprised that it didn’t happen.” He said the organization has not been given any explanation for the decision.

Oxman said he wasn’t yet sure what the state’s decision might mean to the project going forward. “I don’t think we’ve done any true assessment of what this means, because we were not expecting this,” he said. “I don’t know the outcome. We really haven’t figured out where we go from here.”

Local Planning Committee member Andrew Mitchell, who retired this year as president of Peconic Bay Medical Center, said he hopes the science center project continues to move forward without the DRI funding. “While there were a number of unanswered questions regarding the science center project, its location is absolutely integral to the downtown revitalization initiative,” Mitchell said.

Riverhead Community Development Director Dawn Thomas also said the science center not being funded was “surprising,” but said she was “confident we can find funding for that project.” She added, “It’s a great project. It’s important to the town square and its success. So we’ll be working on that.”

The state also chose not to fund the LPC’s recommendation for $1.35 million for the waterfront amphitheater and coastal resiliency project proposed by the town. It also funded just $245,000 of the $1.6 million recommended by the committee for a waterfront park, playground and coastal resiliency improvements, also proposed by the town.

Thomas said there is a lot of “potential for private funding” for the amphitheater project and the town will continue working to fund the project.

The other projects recommended by the Local Planning Committee received the full awards recommended by the committee.

The largest award was $2.75 million to RXR and Georgica Green Ventures for a mixed-use development and parking garage on the site of the parking lot on the southeast corner of Griffing Avenue and Railroad Avenue.

“GGV & RXR are excited to continue their involvement in the redevelopment of downtown Riverhead. The DRI funding certainly helps toward that goal,” said Connie Lassandro, consultant to the developers, who in February were named master developers for the transit-oriented development on Railroad Avenue.

The Suffolk Theater was awarded $2 million to support an addition to the theater that will include the expansion of its stage, the addition of a green room and other back-of-the-house functions.

“Look at what we’ve done with a 10-foot stage, and probably 500 square feet of green room. It’s kind of limiting,” Suffolk Theater co-owner Bob Castaldi said in a phone interview last week. “Now with with a 30-foot-deep stage, and wings, and a 3,500-square-foot support area, we can do far greater things and really make it truly a performing arts center, which was our vision 17 years ago when we bought it.”

The East End Tourism Alliance, in partnership with the Riverhead Business Improvement District, received $250,000 for local artists to create sculptures and other art in the area, including in Grangebel Park, the site of the Reflextions: Art in the Park exhibit.

“The committee worked really diligently on the projects and the plan and the allocation. We left it to the state for the final details,” Bryan DeLuca, chairperson of the board of the East End Tourism Alliance and a member of the DRI local planning committee, said. “And at the end of the day, we’re very happy that we received the grant, and the projects that are getting funded are going to move forward. They’re ready. And we’re excited by all those elements.”

Riverhead Free Library was awarded $215,000 to create an entrance to the library at the front of its building on West Main Street.

“This is great,” library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith said. “It’s really important. The library wants to be part of Main Street, part of the downtown,” she said. The entrance at the front of the building will help accomplish that, she said. “I’m very excited to hear the news.”

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