The RiverWalk at Peconic Riverfront Park in Riverhead seen in...

The RiverWalk at Peconic Riverfront Park in Riverhead seen in 2023. The town will use $24 million in federal funding to revitalize its downtown. Credit: Rick Kopstein

With downtown revitalization projects underway in Riverhead, local leaders said a $24 million federal grant is the "missing puzzle piece" to beautify the Peconic riverfront, strengthen against flooding and make the area more walkable.

Riverhead officials were stunned to learn they won the grant, after applying five times. A teary-eyed Supervisor Tim Hubbard and Community Development Director Dawn Thomas celebrated Friday morning, jumping for joy at the news. Hubbard said the grant builds on projects underway to revamp the riverfront with a town square.

"It was like a nice little present wrapped up, and now this is the bow on the present," Hubbard said Friday.

On Friday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told Newsday and Riverhead that the town won the money through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A bipartisan group of lawmakers lobbied to fund projects in Riverhead, the only town on Long Island to receive an award this year.

Several projects will share the funding, with nearly $15 million allocated for a new parking garage, $4.8 million for flood protection and $4.6 million to improve streetscapes.

The garage will be built north of Main Street to shift parking from existing riverfront lots to make way for a town square with green space, a playground and outdoor amphitheater that will be elevated for flood protection. The federal money offsets most of the $23 million price tag, and the town received a $2 million county grant for the project earlier this year.

The town will also use the grant to create safer pedestrian and bicycle paths, crosswalks, lighting and signage to improve connections from the riverfront and Main Street north toward the Long Island Rail Road Station, where a 243-unit apartment building and shops are planned.

It also includes eliminating vehicle traffic in front of the train station to create a welcoming gateway into town with public art, signage for hikers and bike racks, according to the grant application.

Schumer said in an interview Friday the infusion will “supercharge Riverhead’s renaissance” without burdening taxpayers.

“I’ve walked through downtown Riverhead. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s clear it needs a shot in the arm,” he said.

RAISE grants are awarded to projects that address transportation, climate change and equity, with $15 million of the $1.5 billion pledged for impoverished communities, according to the DOT. Half of the funding is used for projects in rural areas like Riverhead.

According to the 2022 American Community Survey, Riverhead’s poverty rate was 11.3%, compared with the Suffolk County average of 6.5%.

The plight of downtown Riverhead mirrors other communities, where once-bustling Main Streets were abandoned for wider highways and big-box retailers in sprawling strip malls.

As retail moved from downtown Riverhead to the commercial Route 58 and Tanger Outlets, businesses on Main Street suffered. Town officials estimate the number of vacant storefronts approached 50% and worsened during the pandemic.

But revitalization has hit milestones as new restaurants, mixed-use housing and commercial buildings have cropped up, and the renovated Suffolk Theater opened a decade ago.

In 2020, the town bought three buildings on the south side of Main Street, demolishing two to make way for the $5 million town square.

Thomas said reclaiming public river access is a top priority.

“We have parking on the riverfront, which is a silly thing,” she said Friday. “And all of the things the river has to offer were blocked by a wall of buildings.”

She said the projects will improve functionality and encourage people to walk between destinations. On foot, it’s only about 10 minutes from the Long Island Aquarium on East Main Street to the train station.

Five might be the town's new lucky number. In 2022, the town also received a $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant to jumpstart these projects — also on the fifth attempt.

“To be able to transform our community, capitalize on all of its amazing assets and turn it into a beacon for the East End is really a game-changer here for us,” Thomas said.

With downtown revitalization projects underway in Riverhead, local leaders said a $24 million federal grant is the "missing puzzle piece" to beautify the Peconic riverfront, strengthen against flooding and make the area more walkable.

Riverhead officials were stunned to learn they won the grant, after applying five times. A teary-eyed Supervisor Tim Hubbard and Community Development Director Dawn Thomas celebrated Friday morning, jumping for joy at the news. Hubbard said the grant builds on projects underway to revamp the riverfront with a town square.

"It was like a nice little present wrapped up, and now this is the bow on the present," Hubbard said Friday.

On Friday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told Newsday and Riverhead that the town won the money through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A bipartisan group of lawmakers lobbied to fund projects in Riverhead, the only town on Long Island to receive an award this year.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Riverhead is getting a $24 million federal grant to mitigate flooding downtown, spur development, revamp the Peconic riverfront and better weave together the downtown area.
  • The largest chunk of the grant, $15 million, will help fund a new parking garage to shift parking away from the riverfront, which routinely floods.
  • This is the fifth time Riverhead has sought the funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Several projects will share the funding, with nearly $15 million allocated for a new parking garage, $4.8 million for flood protection and $4.6 million to improve streetscapes.

The garage will be built north of Main Street to shift parking from existing riverfront lots to make way for a town square with green space, a playground and outdoor amphitheater that will be elevated for flood protection. The federal money offsets most of the $23 million price tag, and the town received a $2 million county grant for the project earlier this year.

The town will also use the grant to create safer pedestrian and bicycle paths, crosswalks, lighting and signage to improve connections from the riverfront and Main Street north toward the Long Island Rail Road Station, where a 243-unit apartment building and shops are planned.

It also includes eliminating vehicle traffic in front of the train station to create a welcoming gateway into town with public art, signage for hikers and bike racks, according to the grant application.

Schumer said in an interview Friday the infusion will “supercharge Riverhead’s renaissance” without burdening taxpayers.

“I’ve walked through downtown Riverhead. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s clear it needs a shot in the arm,” he said.

RAISE grants are awarded to projects that address transportation, climate change and equity, with $15 million of the $1.5 billion pledged for impoverished communities, according to the DOT. Half of the funding is used for projects in rural areas like Riverhead.

According to the 2022 American Community Survey, Riverhead’s poverty rate was 11.3%, compared with the Suffolk County average of 6.5%.

The plight of downtown Riverhead mirrors other communities, where once-bustling Main Streets were abandoned for wider highways and big-box retailers in sprawling strip malls.

As retail moved from downtown Riverhead to the commercial Route 58 and Tanger Outlets, businesses on Main Street suffered. Town officials estimate the number of vacant storefronts approached 50% and worsened during the pandemic.

But revitalization has hit milestones as new restaurants, mixed-use housing and commercial buildings have cropped up, and the renovated Suffolk Theater opened a decade ago.

In 2020, the town bought three buildings on the south side of Main Street, demolishing two to make way for the $5 million town square.

Thomas said reclaiming public river access is a top priority.

“We have parking on the riverfront, which is a silly thing,” she said Friday. “And all of the things the river has to offer were blocked by a wall of buildings.”

She said the projects will improve functionality and encourage people to walk between destinations. On foot, it’s only about 10 minutes from the Long Island Aquarium on East Main Street to the train station.

Five might be the town's new lucky number. In 2022, the town also received a $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant to jumpstart these projects — also on the fifth attempt.

“To be able to transform our community, capitalize on all of its amazing assets and turn it into a beacon for the East End is really a game-changer here for us,” Thomas said.

Riverhead schools and armed guards . . . Giants training camp . . . Sands Point mansion  Credit: Newsday

Updated 14 minutes ago Biden to address nation . . . Alleged home improvement scam . . . FBI raids former Hochul aide's home . . . Giants training camp

Riverhead schools and armed guards . . . Giants training camp . . . Sands Point mansion  Credit: Newsday

Updated 14 minutes ago Biden to address nation . . . Alleged home improvement scam . . . FBI raids former Hochul aide's home . . . Giants training camp

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