A $2.4-million state grant to Riverhead Town will ensure the new Hyatt hotel and conference center at Atlantis Marine World remains on schedule to open in 2011, according to developer James Bissett.
The groundbreaking is expected later this year.
Much of downtown Riverhead's business district has been dying off for years, with nearly two dozen stores and the Suffolk Theater - in the district's center - now closed.
But, at a news conference outside the aquarium Wednesday, Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said the proposed 100-room hotel and attached 30,000- square-foot conference center could be key to reviving the downtown area.
"We're going to make Riverhead alive again," Romaine said.
Cardinale said that cooperative gesture was repaid when $2.4 million from the $150-million Restore NY statewide stimulus grant program was earmarked for the aquarium project.
Part of the new state grant will help fund a 5,000-square- foot area which can be used to host major displays and other events, to give the aquarium more room for its temporary exhibits.
Town Board member John Dunleavy agreed the hotel project could bring life back to the downtown.
"This will make Riverhead what it was 30 years ago," he said.
The proposed hotel project will cost $22 million.
Bissett said aquarium attendance was projected to decline this year, but was actually up around 6 or 8 percent, with more people coming from the Long Island region instead of going on longer trips out of state.
There will be a 400-seat banquet hall at the hotel, but plans for a restaurant were dropped because there are already enough competing restaurants in the area, Bissett said.