Calverton Aviation and Technology has reached out to Riverhead officials in an effort to move forward with the purchase of vacant industrial land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, despite the Town Board declaring the contract “null and void” on Oct. 24.
The Town Board’s action came the day after the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency voted to reject CAT’s application for financial assistance, filed jointly with the town.
Riverhead IDA Executive Director Tracy Stark-James during the agency’s Nov. 13 board meeting that IDA had received correspondence from CAT’s counsel. She noted the IDA board was already aware of that correspondence. There was no discussion of its contents.
Town officials have also acknowledged receiving correspondence from an attorney for CAT, but refused to disclose any details about its contents.
In response to questions from EPCAL Watch Coordinator John McAuliff at the Nov. 21 Town Board meeting, Council Member Tim Hubbard said none of the board members could answer McAuliff’s questions regarding the correspondence, citing “the possibility of litigation.”
“I wouldn’t advise any of the Town Board members to talk about it,” Town Attorney Erik Howard interjected. “Yeah, we’ve received contact from counsel for CAT and at this point, I’m going to leave it at that.”
In response to a request for information about communications with the town and the Riverhead IDA, Calverton Aviation and Technology provided RiverheadLOCAL with a statement Wednesday night through its public relations firm, Rubenstein.
‘CAT remains willing and hopeful’
Rubenstein managing director Gary Lewi forwarded to RiverheadLOCAL email correspondence between attorney Ronald R. Rossi of the New York City law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, and Triple Five executives Meg Blakey, Nader Ghermezian, Justin Ghermezian and others in the company, as well as two other attorneys in Rossi’s firm.
The statement reads:
“For more than five years, Calverton Aviation Technology (“CAT”) and the Triple Five Group have devoted thousands of hours and spent millions of dollars and much resources working diligently, transparently and in good faith with the Calverton Development Agency [sic], the Town of Riverhead, and the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency to deliver a desperately needed and long overdue development project for the people of Riverhead at EPCAL, a parcel of land that has stood fallow, commercially useless and unenhanced for more than twenty-five years.
“In the weeks following the Town of Riverhead’s rash and legally deficient decision to declare CAT’s right to purchase and develop the EPCAL property ‘null and void,’ CAT has reached out to the Town to try and move forward with the EPCAL property sale, including by indicating its continued willingness to proceed with the purchase of the Property as soon as practicable.
“CAT remains willing and hopeful to work collaboratively with the Town and residents of Riverhead to develop the project but is resolute in its intent to fully vindicate its legal rights, including for specific performance of its contractual right to purchase and develop the EPCAL property.”
Hubbard on Thursday again acknowledged receiving correspondence from CAT and again declined to discuss its contents, citing the advice of the town attorney.
CAT’s statement did not provide any information about communication with the Riverhead IDA.
On Oct. 24, the day after the IDA’s rejection of its application, the company said the agency’s determination was “based on a series of grossly erroneous factual and conjured findings [and] issues not properly before it.” CAT also said the IDA’s decision was contradicted by the evidence the company submitted.
“So too is the notion that Triple Five, a major worldwide developer with a half a century track record of raising billions of dollars to successfully develop some of the world’s most iconic properties, including, for example, Mall of America, lacks the wherewithal to complete the EPCAL project. Indeed, RIDA has been provided with audited financial statements demonstrating CAT’s undeniable financial strength to undertake this project,” CAT said in the Oct. 24 statement, issued before the Town Board’s action.
After the Oct. 24 Town Board vote, a CAT spokesperson threatened a lawsuit. “It is literally tragic that the Town of Riverhead has diverted the enormous economic future of Calverton and sent it to the court house for what will likely be years to come,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The long road to ‘no’
Calverton Aviation Technology, a single-purpose limited liability company formed in December 2017 to purchase and develop the land at the Calverton Enterprise Park is an affiliate of Triple Five, an international conglomerate headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and owned by the Ghermezian family. CAT is owned 75% by Triple Five Real Estate I and 25% by Luminati Aerospace. Triple Five Vice Chairperson/CAT CEO Justin Ghermezian owns Triple Five Real Estate I through his 100% ownership of two other corporate entities, according to an ownership chart submitted to the Riverhead IDA by CAT as part of its application for financial assistance. Luminati Aerospace is owned by the Estate of Daniel Preston, who died in January.
The Riverhead Community Development Agency, which owns the town’s remaining land at EPCAL — the site was conveyed to the town by the U.S. Navy on Sept. 10, 1998 after Northrop Grumman vacated the property— entered into a purchase agreement with CAT in November 2018. The Town Board, which sits as the governing body of the Riverhead Community Development Agency, approved the agreement in December 2017, subject to a determination that CAT was a “qualified and eligible sponsor” pursuant to the State Urban Renewal Law. The Town Board conducted its examination of CAT and determined, in November 2018 that CAT was a “qualified and eligible sponsor.“
MORE COVERAGE: Enterprise Park at Calverton
The contract between the town and CAT was subject to a number of contingencies, including the town’s completion of the land subdivision required for the conveyance. The town owns more land at the site than the 1,644 acres it agreed to sell to CAT for $40 million. The contract required the town to obtain final approval of an eight-lot subdivision of the site. The town was not able to complete the subdivision, largely due to problems encountered gaining required approvals from the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The town sued the DEC in an effort to set aside certain requirements imposed on the town by the agency, but a court dismissed the town’s action.
The Town Board and CAT then signed a new agreement in the hope of moving forward with the sale. That agreement required the two parties to make joint application for financial assistance to the Riverhead IDA. Under the terms of that agreement, the town would convey title to its entire land holdings to the IDA, which would lease back municipal-use land to the town and lease the land to be sold to CAT to the developer, which would assume the responsibility and expense of completing the subdivision. The agreement also said if the IDA declined to approve the application, the town would have the right to declare the contract null and void.
CAT’s plans for the site have evolved over the years. Its most recent plan, detailed in the joint application to the Riverhead IDA and in CAT’s September 2022 presentation to the IDA, called for the ultimate development of 10 million square feet of industrial/commercial space, with a proposed $245 million first phase, consisting of 1 million square feet of development, including approximately 600,000 square feet of logistics, warehouse and distribution facilities in two buildings along the 10,000-foot runway, and 400,000 square feet of commercial and office space in three buildings set back from the runways and logistics buildings.
The company in its application documents and presentation to the IDA detailed plans for potential air cargo/freight uses at the site, including the future reactivation of the 7,000-foot runway, where CAT’s future development plans included the construction of additional logistics, warehouse and distribution buildings.
After pushback from community members, civic and environmental organizations, and attacks by political opponents in the midst of a local election campaign, a majority of the Town Board expressed opposition to CAT’s plans, despite having signed onto the joint application to the IDA, and said they strongly opposed any air cargo/freight uses at the site.
The IDA denied CAT’s application on Oct. 23 and the Town Board on Oct. 24 passed a resolution declaring the CAT contract of sale null and void. Town officials have said that the $1 million down payment being held in escrow pending closing has been returned to CAT’s attorneys.
The Town Board is currently considering a code amendment that would expressly ban use of the EPCAL runways for a “commercial passenger airport or a cargo airport,” flight instruction, flight training; aeronautical services, with certain exceptions for uses “ancillary” to allowed principal uses, and aircraft rental. The board has scheduled a public hearing on that code amendment for its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
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