I read with a chuckle Phil Cardinale’s column last week on how to improve downtown Riverhead. Listening to Phil Cardinale lecture about how to improve downtown is like listening to a blind man describe the wonder of an evening sunset.
As our former town supervisor, Mr. Cardinale had the luxury of presiding over downtown during the best real estate market Long Island has ever seen. Yet, while Mr. Cardinale was supervisor, I could have set up a table and chairs, lit candles, placed down formal china, held a quiet dinner party in the center of Main Street and not worried about being hit by a car.
When Mr. Cardinale took over from prior supervisor Bob Kozakiewicz, downtown was filled to the brim with stores, shops and offices. Mr. Cardinale’s administration brought us a multitude of “For Rent” signs and the return of the tumbleweed. Mr. Cardinale’s grand plan for Main Street was the Apollo project. You may remember a gorgeous artist’s drawing that appeared on the front cover of Long Island’s daily newspaper when Mr. Cardinale outlined his “comprehensive” development plan. Mr. Cardinale painted a vision of a downtown that would look like something out of the Jetsons or the ’64 World’s Fair, but all of that balderdash never came to pass because the plan wasn’t real. It was public relations.
Under Mr. Cardinale, Riverhead was constantly subjected to a litany of “It’s coming soon” press conferences, false hopes, idle thoughts and artist’s renderings. If Mr. Cardinale has such brilliant ideas for how to improve Main Street why was it a ghost town during the six years he served as supervisor?
Enter Sean Walter. His administration has a novel plan for improving Main Street; the old fashioned way; hard work, and a store-by-store, block-by-block approach. In one of the worst economic times this nation has ever seen, this administration has brought you The Red Collection antique store, The Riverhead Project Restaurant, expansions at Dark Horse Restaurant, Cody’s Barbeque, Long Ireland Brewery, The New Hyatt Hotel, an expanded Aquarium, kept the Blue Door Gallery in town, a newly expanded Athens Grill and a refurbished Riverhead Grill. Last Friday, I was proud to witness the lighting of the new marquee at the Suffolk Theatre and as I watch that treasure rehabilitate itself to its former majestic grandeur I think of how Mr. Cardinale tried to close it down.
If Mr. Cardinale actually had any interest in downtown he would attend the many events that have brought new life to Main Street, as this summer has seen car shows and concerts, antique shows and festivals, parades and progress. Grangebel Park is renewed, the sidewalks are getting fixed, the street lights work, there is a new community garden and there is a new spirit downtown. Mr. Cardinale, that didn’t happen when you were in Town Hall. The only ribbon Phil Cardinale ever cut was on a Christmas gift.
There is an old saying that “those who can’t do, teach.” After 10 years in Town Hall and a track record of not getting it done during the best of economic circumstances, Mr. Cardinale now apparently feels a need to “teach.”
I for one will skip this dry lecture and run across campus, to where the action is.
Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and political advisor to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. He is also on the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association’s board of directors.