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After deal, developer to reopen Suffolk Theatre

After years of legal wrangling, an agreement has been reached to open the old Suffolk Theatre - an 800-seat art deco movie house in the heart of Riverhead's downtown business district - by 2012.

The Town of Riverhead and Pike Realty agreed to drop lawsuits against each other over the stalled project and to set ground rules for the planned renovations and reopening. Long Island City builder Robert Castaldi, who purchased the movie house in 2005, is using his firm, Pike Realty, for the renovation.

The theater opened in 1933 - its first movie was "Footlight Parade" - and closed in 1987, the victim of the growth of multiplex movie houses and the lack of easy-to-find downtown parking.

The town purchased the boarded-up building in the 1990s for $400,000, and spent another $600,000 to fix its leaky roof and front brick facade.

When Castaldi's firm purchased the movie house in 2005 for $700,000, he said it would reopen in 2006.

But a variety of problems - including conflicts with a firm, Apollo Real Estate Investors, that had been designated a master builder for a downtown redevelopment project - led to several lawsuits and kept Castaldi from proceeding with turning the structure into a performing arts center.

The town and Castaldi agreed to start over when the conflict with Apollo ended after that firm abandoned plans to build a multistory parking garage.

Under the agreement, Pike Realty must file a completed application for a building permit by Aug. 22, and all work must be completed within 24 months of a permit being issued.

"Yes, it will be open 24 months after he [Castaldi] gets the permit," Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Thursday.

Walter said he is seeing new interest in downtown redevelopment since the town has said it will not condemn private property to benefit some developers and Apollo has given up on its plans for a massive redevelopment along both sides of East Main Street.

"I truly believe that the Apollo deal held back the tide," Walter said.

The agreement calls for the facility to be developed as a performing arts center, with the town reserving the right to approve sale to a third party for three years after the theater opens.

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