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County grant to help Riverhead revitalization

The former Woolworth building in downtown Riverhead will

The former Woolworth building in downtown Riverhead will be redeveloped and will include retail stores and affordable housing. (Dec. 3, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

The former Woolworth building in downtown Riverhead is expected to receive a $250,000 grant from Suffolk County to add affordable apartments at one of the most visible properties on Main Street.

Nineteen subsidized affordable housing units are expected to open on the second story next summer, said Michael Butler, managing partner of Woolworth Revitalization LLC, the owner and grant recipient.

Those studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments will join another 52 units a few blocks away at Summerwind Square.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said these units will help keep and attract young people to Long Island, what he described as the administration's top economic development priority. "You have to have the young creative class," he said at a news conference outside the building Tuesday. "And where do they want to live? Not necessarily in the basement of their parents' house."

A gym is slated to open by the end of the year on the ground floor at the Woolworth building, in the 20,000-square-foot former drugstore space. A bagel store is expected to open early next year, also on the ground floor, Butler said.

The county grant, which the legislature must approve, will help pay for new gas and electric lines and drainage, Butler said. In exchange, the apartments will be kept at below-market rates. Bellone said while older people can't be restricted from renting, young people should be attracted to living near restaurants, bars and venues such as the recently revived Suffolk Theater, next to the Woolworth building on East Main Street.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who has sponsored the legislation to approve the grant, said, "It's important we bring life back to main streets."

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said while a few buildings need to be developed, getting the Woolworth building opened up is a "huge step. . . . This finishes up the block," he said. Rents have not been set for the Woolworth apartments, according to James Britz, senior vice president of the Long Island Housing Partnership, the nonprofit that helps monitor and market affordable housing.

Eight apartments at the Woolworth site will be rented to households earning 80 percent of the average median income of Suffolk or less -- $75,250 for a household of three. The other units will be rented to those making 50 percent or 60 percent of the average median income or less. For comparison, monthly rent for a one-bedroom at Summerwind Square, for a household making 80 percent of the median income, would be $1,042.

Suffolk County officials said they have spent $3 million toward downtown Riverhead's revitalization in recent years.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said Riverhead's revitalization is happening, after years of delays. "There's no more waiting. It's here, and it's real," he said.

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