Supervisor Sean Walter made a hard, earnest effort to help broker a deal that would finally bring a movie theater to downtown Riverhead, specifically East Main Street. But it appears his almost two-year effort was in vain. He revealed last week that Regal Cinemas, the only interested theater company, is no longer considering bringing a multiplex to downtown.
On the whole, Mr. Walter’s store-by-store and block-by-block approach seems to be the right one for revitalizing downtown. Just look at The Riverhead Project, the coming Ralph’s Italian Ices and Blue Duck Bakery building renovations, the Haiku sushi restaurant and the Tex-Mex eatery in the works behind it, Twin Forks bicycle, even the Suffolk Theatre renovations. These are all examples of small-business owners taking a chance on Main Street — in most cases with the support and help of the town and its supervisor. These types of businesses are key to downtown’s resurgence. (That, and apartments, of course, which are on the way on Peconic Avenue.)
The supervisor will find nothing but frustration if he sets his sites on much larger commercial projects like this multiplex cinema, which all along seemed to pose logistical problems — such as downtown parking and access — and seemed much more appropriate for land near a major highway or thoroughfare.
Mr. Walter should stick to thinking small while thinking big for Main Street and not fall into the same trap as his predecessor, Phil Cardinale, who wasted years helping chase the dreams of various developers and other so-called men of vision, all of whom seemed to have the one-shot answer to downtown’s woes. But real life in Riverhead just always seemed to get in the way.
The current supervisor, town officials, business leaders and landlords alike should make one last push to bring relatively small outfits to some of those empty, medium-sized buildings on East Main Street — say a gym, specialty grocer, indoor sports training complex, art supplies store or cinema arts center. There are countless possibilities. And if giving it the ol’ college try doesn’t help fill these vacancies, then it’s time to admit something is seriously flawed with our downtown — and that only one solution to its problems remains: Start from scratch.
If a last push fails, our elected leaders will have to put their party philosophies of governing aside and start exploring the real possibility of invoking eminent domain, storefront by empty storefront, along almost two full blocks downtown. Then and only then will bigger plans for downtown Riverhead ever have a shot at becoming a reality.