After the old Woolworth building in downtown Riverhead closed in 1997, lots of people had lots of ideas for what to do with it. Among the suggestions: a multiplex, part of a hotel complex, mini-shops, or a big indoor farmers market.

Nothing worked out.

Now the town has approved a special-use permit that will allow the site's newest owner to turn much of the 25,000-square-foot building into a gym, with the space on Main Street set aside for retail use.

It's one of the final big pieces left in the town's decade-long efforts to revitalize its downtown business district.

"The restoration of the old Woolworth building brings the same excitement to downtown Riverhead as your favorite team hitting an early spring grand slam," Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Walter was not at the town board meeting Tuesday when it voted, 4-0, to approve the special-use permit, which had been requested by Woolworth Revitalization LLC to build an indoor recreation facility at 130 East Main St., a few doors down from the recently renovated 600-seat Suffolk Theater.

While new stores and restaurants have opened in renovated Main Street buildings over the past two years, encouraged by new residential construction and plans for additional condominiums on West Main Street, the town also has several older buildings still mostly vacant.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Town planning director Rick Hanley said Tuesday that the downtown revitalization cannot be considered complete until the area's vacancy rate drops to around 10 percent.

The town board also approved several resolutions Tuesday dealing with new construction on Main Street and the still-growing commercial strip along County Route 58 a few miles to the north. All votes were 4-0.

It set a public hearing for May 7 on a proposal for a 1,025-square-foot retail addition to a 1,635-square-foot existing retail store and service station next to the Atlantis aquarium on East Main Street.

It approved a land-clearing permit for the Costco being built on Route 58 by Heritage-Riverhead Retail Developers.

It voted to solicit proposals for engineering and design services for preliminary plans to convert the now-closed state armory on Route 58 into a new town police headquarters and justice court building.