Zip line proposal met with opposition from businesses

05/10/2013 6:15 PM |
JOHN FINNEGAN COURTESY PHOTO | A proposed Riverfront zip line in downtown Riverhead is receiving backlash from the business community.

JOHN FINNEGAN COURTESY PHOTO | A proposed Riverfront zip line in downtown Riverhead is receiving backlash from the business community.

A Westchester man with hopes of bringing a 900-foot-long zip line to the Peconic waterfront in downtown Riverhead plans to address the Town Board at its work session Thursday. He aims to prove that his proposed ride is the type of attraction that will help bring foot traffic to downtown businesses.

But those same business owners he says he hopes to help say they’ll be right there waiting for him Thursday morning, prepared to argue that a downtown Riverhead zip line is something they don’t want.

“I don’t think for a minute you could ride a zip line with boats and fishermen underneath,” said downtown Riverhead Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill. “What are they going to do, close off the waterfront?”

Urban Jungle Zip Lines principal John Finnegan says he’s been in talks with Councilman George Gabrielsen for more than a year about his plans to erect a 70-foot tower with a zip line carrying riders over the river to a slightly shorter tower 900 feet away. The draft proposal suggests constructing the towers in the downtown parking lot that runs south of East Main Street.

Mr. Finnegan, who according to state records formed his company just six months ago, said he agreed to pay the town roughly $40,000 this year for use of its land during a meeting between himself, Mr. Gabrielsen and other town employees earlier this week. That payment would increase anywhere from 10 or 15 percent if the town decided to extend the lease next year, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

The Riverhead location, which was first reported earlier this week by riverheadlocal.com, would be the first zip line venture for Mr. Finnegan, who has previously worked as a salesman for a sports publication. The site is one of three currently being considered by Urban Jungle, the North Salem resident said. He’s been in discussions with officials in Westchester to build a ride there and has named Bryant Park in New York City as a possible site.

He said Friday he’s closest to bringing a zip line to Riverhead, where he hopes to open the ride June 28, though he has yet to file a formal application with the town. The zip line would run seven days, from noon to 10 p.m. during the peak summer months, April through October, he said.

A business plan Mr. Finnegan posted online shows that he has been seeking investors to cover 80 percent of the shares in his business, amounting to $500,000. In order for the company to break even on its investment, his business plan states that it would need to attract more than 100 riders per day, per year. The plan states that customers would pay $20 to ride the zip line and would have the option to purchase a photo for an additional $20.

Though his plan suggests advertisements would be papered on the towers, he said advertisements are not being considered at the Riverhead site.

Mr. Gabrielsen, a proponent of the project, estimates the zip line could attract more than 100 riders each weekday and up to 200 riders during weekend days.

“It’s a great idea, it’s a family event,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. “We need foot traffic and this will help facilitate that.”

But Mr. Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon & Spa on Main Street, said he believes construction would severely impact parking in the downtown area.

He and other business owners fear customers will be deterred from shopping locally if inconvenienced by insufficient parking, he said.

“Riverhead doesn’t need a zip line,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “It needs a parking garage.”

Further complicating the matter, the Riverhead Parking District shares ownership of the proposed site with the town.

“We pay special taxes to have rights over that property,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “We will take [the town] to court if need be.”

He said he and other business owners plan to protest the proposal when it’s brought up at Thursday’s work session.

But Mr. Finnegan, who spent his childhood summering in Jamesport, said he believes Riverhead is an ideal location for the project because of the downtown’s recent revitalization.

“I think we can help each other,” said Mr. Finnegan, who estimates the business will add 20 to 25 seasonal jobs to the local economy. “Without a question this is realistic. The town already does a great job of bringing in people to the waterfront and when word gets out about us, we will bring in more tourism.”

Thursday’s work session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at Riverhead Town Hall. Before construction on the zip line can begin, the site plan needs to be approved by both the Town Board and the New York State Department of Labor, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

cmurray@timesreview.com

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