2011 Top Story No. 4: Jim Bissett found dead in Mattituck

12/29/2011 7:00 AM |
Long island Aquarium

JAMES BISSETT III

Jim Bissett’s unexpected death in December was obviously a blow to his family and friends. But it was also a huge loss to downtown Riverhead. Mr. Bissett’s departure has left a void in the business community, here and elsewhere in Suffolk County, that may never be filled.

The visionary behind Atlantis Marine World — now called the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center — and later the Hyatt East End hotel, Mr. Bissett was a giant among men when it came to Riverhead’s Main Street. He and his business partner,

Joe Petrocelli, have for over a decade attracted hundreds of thousands of people every year to an otherwise beleagured downtown.

Now, Main Street appears to be getting back on track — something that likely couldn’t happen with Mr. Bissett’s hard work. His Hyatt Hotel led to a slew of new restaurants opened by entrepreneurs hoping to capitalize on the hotel, conference center and aquarium traffic.

But just four months after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Hyatt, Mr. Bissett’s body was found Dec. 14 in Veterans Park in Mattituck, not far from his sprawling estate, after an apparent suicide.

As for his life in Riverhead, one could argue Mr. Bissett was the heart and soul of downtown, even if he didn’t always seek out the spotlight.

Moving forward, it appears his businesses are in good hands. The morning after his death, employees at the hotel and aquarium on East Main Street released a statement to the media expressing their sadness while also saying they were all so grateful just for the opportunity to have worked for him.

“We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much,” the staff said.

To give an example of what he meant to his friends and others, in a RiverheadNewsReview.com story published Dec. 15, there was an online comment made by someone who identified himself as friend and business owner and called Mr. Bissett “the most generous, wonderful, honest [person] I have every dealt with. He only cared about his friends and the people he loved.

“He was loved by everyone,” the commenter added. “And he was my hero and always will be.”

mwhite@timesreview.com