Not so fast with those dinosaurs!
A majority of Riverhead Town Board members now say they oppose selling the Second Street firehouse, which recently was being proposed as the site of a dinosaur theater featuring people in realistic-looking dinosaur costumes that interact with audiences.
The Town Board had approved the publishing of a request for proposals to sell or lease the Second Street firehouse in September, with Councilman Jim Wooten casting the only no vote.
Supervisor Sean Walter said Wednesday board members never spoke to him about their change in plans before speaking to the media, and says he publicly asked the board if it wanted to move forward with a contract to sell the firehouse at a public work session on Feb. 13, and no one opposed it.
But this week, Council members George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio said they now oppose selling the firehouse. Along with Mr. Wooten, who still opposes selling the building, that means that a three-vote majority of the five-member Town Board is not in favor of the sale.
“I’m stunned and shocked that they would do something like this,” he said.
Mr. Walter said the board’s action to pull out of the sale of the firehouse also potentially messes up the town’s deal to sell the East Lawn building on East Main Street and the town’s deal to purchase a lot on Roanoke Avenue for public parking and for parking for the county courts. The town also planned to use the proceeds from the firehouse sale to purchase downtown surveillance cameras and to repave the parking lot behind the former Woolworth building, Mr. Walter said.
One of the responses the town received for the firehouse sale was from Suffolk Theatre owner Bob Castaldi, who proposed to buy both the firehouse and the East Lawn office building on East Main Street, for which the town has also issued a request for proposals to buy or lease.
Mr. Castaldi planned to renovate both buildings and to lease the firehouse to On-Art, a Japanese company that does “Dino-A-Live” theater, an interactive dinosaur show featuring people in live-sized, high-tech dinosaur costumes.
Ken Takemoto of Greenport, representing On-Art, gave a presentation on the dinosaur theater at the Feb. 13 Town Board work session, and none of the board members expressed any outright opposition at the time.
“We’re going to take it off the market,” Mr. Gabrielsen said Wednesday, indicating that a majority no longer supports the sale of the building.
“I am now 100 percent against the sale of the firehouse to anybody,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.
He questions whether the dinosaur theater will have any “shelf life,” and said the estimated $350,000 selling price isn’t that much money.
“What happens in two years if this thing goes bust? We just lost a prime piece of real estate,” he said.
Mr. Wooten said he’s been opposed to the sale of the firehouse all along and thinks the town should keep the building for a municipal use, such as an office for agencies like the Riverhead Community Awareness Program or for the town historian’s office, both of which are now in the East Lawn building, which is said to be in bad condition.
Mr. Gabrielsen suggested renovating the firehouse as a location for a new police station, allowing the current police building to become an expanded justice court.
He said he also believes the town will be making a lot of money off the proposed energy park at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, which would eliminate the need to sell the firehouse. The deadline for proposed peak energy plants there was Tuesday and four responses were received, while the deadline for a second power RPF, for solar projects at EPCAL, is Thursday, Mr. Gabrielsen said.
Mr. Wooten said he’s not sure if the Second Street property is big enough for a police station and said it is good to keep the police and courts close by, so inmates aren’t transported long distances to court.
The town’s long-range plan is to make the former Armory building on Route 58 into a police department and justice court, but that plan is many years off, and some estimates have put the cost of renovating the building for those uses as high as $15 million, officials have said.
Mr. Wooten feels there are plenty of vacant buildings on Main Street where the dinosaur theater could go.
Ms. Giglio confirmed by text message that she’s “opposed at this time” to the firehouse sale, but was unavailable for comment beyond that.
“I would never support using that building as a town government office,” Mr. Walter said of the firehouse. “What would you do with it? Hold it until it falls apart?”
He said the board also agreed to put a covenant on the firehouse that requires it to be preserved as a historic building. The covenant, he said, greatly reduces the potential uses of the building and the potential sales price. In addition, Mr. Castaldi could remove the building for nearly $2 million less than it would cost the town, since the town would be subject to state laws requiring the project be paid in four sections, and that the town pay prevailing wages, and a private builder would not.
The town was expected to get about $375,000 from the sale to Mr. Castaldi, he said. The supervisor said he doubts Mr. Castaldi would still want to purchase and renovate the East Lawn building if he’s not also buying the firehouse.
“This is a slap in the face to Mr. Castaldi,” Mr. Walter said of the board’s decision.
Mr. Castaldi wasn’t immediately available for comment.