An undated file photo of James Bissett.

An undated file photo of James Bissett. Credit: David Pokress

James Bissett, the developer of the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center and a local Republican stalwart, was found dead in his car Wednesday evening in a Mattituck park.

Foul play is not suspected, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said Thursday.

Bissett, 48, was found dead in his car about 6 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park on Peconic Bay Boulevard in Mattituck, police said. He lived in Mattituck.

A prominent developer, Bissett was the moving force and co-owner of the aquarium complex on East Main Street in Riverhead and, just recently, built the Hyatt Place East End Hotel on the property. Many consider the aquarium to be primarily responsible for the revitalization of downtown Main Street.

He also owned Bissett Nursery in Holtsville, a large wholesale company, with his family and Treasure Cove Resort Marina in Riverhead.

Bissett's 37-acre Mattituck estate was on the market for $8.9 million last year with Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty; the property recently was reduced to $5.8 million.

John Jay LaValle, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, hailed Bissett as a friend and political mover although he never sought political leadership roles. LaValle said Bissett "was a tremendous human being" who "was a pillar of our community."

"He was a donor, supported businesses and he supported people who would help the business community," LaValle said. "It's a tremendous loss for our community."

Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Brookhaven Republicans, recalled Bissett's influence on local policymakers.

"You would go to him and his family to get a sense of issues important to him and his family and the business community," Garcia said, calling Bissett's death "shocking and tragic."

The news of his death was especially difficult for staff at the aquarium.

"We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much," read a statement from the aquarium officials.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Bissett was "a wonderful and caring man" whose "legacy will live on forever as downtown Riverhead continues to build from his dream."

Information on funeral arrangements for Bissett was not available Thursday night.

With Mitchell Freedman

and Sophia Chang

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