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Riverhead takes $4.8M step toward planned town square project

Riverhead Town officials plan to purchase blighted buildings

Riverhead Town officials plan to purchase blighted buildings on East Main Street and build a town square connecting Main Street to the riverfront along the Peconic River. Credit: Urban Design Associates via Town of Riverhead

A new town square for Riverhead is closer to fruition after Riverhead officials announced they have agreed in principle to purchase blighted buildings on East Main Street for $4.85 million to make way for the square.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced July 2 that the town has signed a letter of intent to purchase 117 and 121 East Main St., along with the option to purchase 127 East Main St., so the town can build a town square connecting Main Street to the riverfront along the Peconic River.

In addition to opening up the waterfront, a new town square would also give the town more leverage and support regarding future grant opportunities, remove blighted buildings, provide public open spaces and mitigate long-standing flooding issues in that area, town officials said.

Aguiar said she sat down in February with Dawn Thomas, the town’s Community Development Agency director, and discussed in length revitalizing the town’s Main Street area, which she said was challenging amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Collectively, we created a vision and an achievable plan with minimal cost, if any, to the taxpayers,” Aguiar said. “The plan was presented to the Town Board and immediately supported. The excitement and support for the plan since the announcement has been incredible. Finally, after so many years, Riverhead will move forward with a plan. Riverhead has now commenced on a renaissance. It is no longer what if, but when.”

The Community Development Agency — comprised of all five Town Board members — voted 5-0 Tuesday to schedule a public hearing at 2:05 p.m. July 21 at Town Hall to take comments on the property purchases.

Thomas said that after all approvals are finished, the town will be able to close the property deals and seek out a developer via a private-public partnership to create the town square. The town will also seek additional grant funding from Suffolk County and the state for construction of the town square, Thomas added.

“We’re looking at a bunch of different angles for funding, but most significantly, leveraging the town-owned property to get the project done,” Thomas said.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the town board’s liaison to Riverhead’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, said Friday that residents had often suggested a towns square among ideas to improve downtown in surveys and meetings the town conducted last year.

“Having a public gathering space right down near the river is something that has been a long-term plan for our community,” Kent said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said previous studies such as the town’s 2016 Brownfield Opportunity Area study — which analyzed the Peconic River/Route 25 Corridor for challenges and outlined goals for the area’s future improvement — have recommended a town square to open up the riverfront area.

“It will be more inviting,” Giglio said. “It’s going to foster downtown as a destination and it will support a lot of our Main Street businesses.”

Square business

  • The town square will be partially funded with an $800,000 grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council.
  • Riverhead officials previously identified 117 East Main St., the former Swezey’s department store, as a vacant blighted building with violations including a bird infestation and a deteriorated floor on the second story. 127 East Main St. is the home of Craft'd, an Italian restaurant, which will be relocated to a new space. The town will work with the owner of 121 East Main St., currently a bicycle store, to find him a new space to operate out of, according to Dawn Thomas, Riverhead’s Community Development Agency director.

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