04/24/13 5:36pm
04/24/2013 5:36 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Runners trek down the unnamed road in Riverhead that could soon share a name with either Heidi Behr or Jim Bissett.

The unnamed road that runs along the Peconic Riverfront in downtown Riverhead may soon have a name.

But which name?

One proposal calls for the section of road from Peconic Avenue to McDermott Avenue be named after Heidi Behr, the 23-year-old Riverhead woman who died in a May 2005 accident while she was volunteering with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio mentioned the proposal to name the riverfront street after Ms. Behr during an interview with Bruce Tria on WRIV radio Wednesday morning, saying more details would be coming soon.

“She was a volunteer and she lost her life going to save somebody else’s,” she said on the air. “It’s something that needs to be done, sooner than later.”

But another proposal calls for naming it after Jim Bissett, the late co-founder of the Long Island Aquarium and the adjacent Hyatt Hotel in downtown Riverhead. Mr. Bissett died in December 2011 at the age of 48 in an apparent suicide. Mr. Bissett is often credited with helping to revive downtown Riverhead through the aquarium.

Supervisor Sean Walter said on Wednesday that the proposal to name the road after Ms. Behr will likely be discussed by the Town Board next week, but he added that the Business Improvement District Management Association and the Parking District advisory committee have already discussed naming something downtown for Mr. Bissett.

“That’s one of the things we have to look at,” Mr. Walter said. “We have to sort that out.”

Ray Pickersgill, the president of the BID and a member of the Parking District advisory committee, said both boards had voted several months ago in support of naming the road along the river “Jim Bissett Way.”

“Nobody had done more for this town than Jim Bissett,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “We’re the only Main Street in Suffolk County that has a name brand hotel on it, and it’s made a big difference. He brought the aquarium to Riverhead as well. I can’t even tell you how many other things he was involved in, but anytime I would go to Jimmy and ask him to get involved in something, he’d be right on it.”

Mr. Walter said they decided not to put the street naming discussing on Thursday’s work session agenda because there is a state Department of Transportation workshop on the subject of downtown sidewalks scheduled at 10 a.m., and that discussion may take a long time.

Mr. Walter said he didn’t know the specifics of the proposals.

“I haven’t even really been told what it is yet,” Mr. Walter said of the plan to name the street after Heidi Behr. “I remember at one point we were going to name the ambulance barn after her.”

Councilmen Jim Wooten and George Gabrielsen said they have no opposition to naming the riverfront drive after Ms. Behr. Mr. Wooten said he is also hoping to name a planned handicap accessible playground at Stotzky Park after her.

Councilman John Dunleavy couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Ms. Behr volunteered with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance for three years but also worked for a paid ambulance company.

She and another emergency medical technician, Bill Stone, 30, of Ridge, who was a paid member of the Riverhead department, died when the ambulance they were in hit a tree in Aquebogue while it was transporting a Jamesport man to a hospital on May 3, 2005.

Ms. Behr left behind her then-13-month-old son, Jared, who has severe disabilities and is being raised by Ms. Behr’s family.

The group planning a Sept. 11 memorial at the recently acquired parkland on the northeast corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue in Riverhead also is likely to have a memorial in honor of Heidi Behr and other emergency service volunteers, according to Bob Kelly, a retired New York City firefighter from the Reeves Park area who made the suggestion.

The park already has a small memorial in honor of Ms. Kelly’s brother, Thomas, a New York City firefighter who died while fighting the World Trade Center fires on Sept. 11, 2001. Park Road also is named in honor of Thomas Kelly.

tgannon@timesreview.com

03/30/13 10:00am
03/30/2013 10:00 AM
Downtown Riverhead, Blues & Music Festival, Vail-Leavitt

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Robert Ross of NYC at the 2012 Blues Festival in June.

This year’s Riverhead Blues Festival will likely be held in September to avoid conflicting with other events, according to Bob Barta, the president of Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which has held the event as a fundraiser since 2006.

The festival had traditionally been held in July until last year, when it was moved to June and lost $8,720, according to Vail-Leavitt officials.

“We had originally planned to have it at the end of June, but then there were all sorts of conflicting events being planned then, so we decided we were going to reschedule it, and right now, we’re looking at dates in September,” Mr. Barta said. “It will be after Labor Day, and the idea will be to try and do it at a time when there aren’t such a hugh number of events going on at the same time.”

A September festival also figures to have cooler weather, Mr. Barta said.

Last year marked the return of the Blues Festival after a one year hiatus in 2011. The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District were involved in dispute over who would run the festival in 2010.

“Last year, the big thing was that we unwittingly set ourselves up against the Strawberry Festival,” Mr. Barta said, alluding to the fact that the 2012 Blues Festival took place at the same time as the popular Mattituck festival. “That was really one of the biggest problems on our point.”

He said they are being careful to pick a date that doesn’t conflict with other popular events.

“There have always been issues with trying to not conflict with other big festivals like the Great South Bay Festival in Patchogue, which would limit certain acts from being available,” he said.

While town officials have said the Riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead might not be available for big events much longer once the Summerwind apartments open, Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt is hoping to have the Blues Festival there this year.

“We’ve been having discussions with representatives from the town about trying to have one last shot back in some version of the back parking lot,” Mr. Barta said. “We’re trying to see if that is workable. We started looking at other locations, but we have a preference for the back parking lot because it allows us to showcase the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, and it allows us to showcase the riverfront. We’d like to have it back there.”

Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill said the BID is hoping to hold its concerts in the Riverfront lot as well this summer, with the stage placed along the riverfront, so the audience faces the river. When Summerwind opens, the residents in the 52 apartment units will be permitted to use the riverfront lot as their parking lot.

The Town Board has a public hearing scheduled on a proposal to establish a three-hour parking limit in a section of the lot between Tweed’s and Cody’s BBQ.

Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt hasn’t determined exactly where in the back parking lot the festival would be located.

Mr. Barta said holding the event in September will help give them time to dig out of the financial hole.

“We’ve partly dug out already,” he said. “This coming month, we thought we were on a track to be completely dug out by the summer, but as it worked out, our bookings for April were a bit light.”

He said they’ve gotten a little more than halfway out of the hole, and they plan to hold some fundraising events to act as kickoff events for the season and to give them “a boost” as they head toward the Blues Festival.

In past years, the Blues Festival would already have been scheduled by this time, but no application has been submitted to the town for the event yet this year.

Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt still plans to make the festival a two-day weekend event and still plans to charge admission, although a price hasn’t been determined.

The BID originally ran the festival as a free event before facing a huge debt in 2005. Vail-Leavitt took over the event in 2006 as a fundraiser for its non-profit organization and began charging an admission fee.

tgannon@timesreview.com

03/22/13 4:00pm
03/22/2013 4:00 PM
Riverhead's Summerwind Square

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The municipal parking lot behind the Summerwind Square apartment complex and East Main Street stores and restaurants.

A public hearing is set for April 16 on a proposal to institute three-hour parking limits for cars parked in a section of the lot south of East Main Street in downtown Riverhead.

The measure has the backing of the town’s parking district advisory committee, according to Ray Pickersgill, who is a member of that committee as well as president of the Business Improvement District management association.

The Town Board voted Tuesday to schedule the hearing, set to start at 7:15 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

Councilman John Dunleavy, the Town Board liaison to the parking committee, proposed the limits in anticipation of the opening of the Summerwind Square apartment complex on Peconic Avenue.

The limits are designed to prevent apartment residents from parking in spaces immediately behind the East Main Street stores, Mr. Dunleavy said. Under the proposal, Summerwind residents would instead be able to park in spaces in the southern portion of the parking lot.

The proposed restricted area is described in the public hearing notice as “sixty parking stalls immediately south of the stores that front on the south side of East Main Street between Cody’s BBQ & Grill and Tweeds Restaurant, extending in a southerly direction, terminating at the light posts located in said parking lot.”

“There is already a two-hour parking limit in this area, but the town took the signs down because there was plenty of parking available,” Mr. Pickersgill said in an interview.

The prospect of the Summerwind opening changes that and makes the time limits necessary, he said.

South of the light poles, 115 spaces parking spaces are available where Summerwind residents can park day and night, Mr. Pickersgill said. Stores in the area have also agreed to have their employees park toward the south end of the lot, nearer to the river, he said.

But Ray Dickhoff, one of the Summerwind Square owners, said at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting that restaurants that book parties and live entertainment often do so for four hours.

Rather limit hours, he said, the town needs to come up with a plan to address downtown parking, moving  forward, because the downtown zoning currently allows for up to 500 apartments.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the town will have to change that zoning because there’s not enough parking for 500 apartments in the area.

tgannon@timesreview.com

02/02/13 1:00pm
02/02/2013 1:00 PM
The Riverhead Rocks Triathlon and Cardboard Boat Race will be held the same weekend this summer.

The Riverhead Rocks Triathlon and Cardboard Boat Race will be held the same weekend this summer.

Two popular Riverhead events will be held on the same weekend this summer, bringing family fun and a surge of business to downtown Riverhead.

Riverhead’s 4th annual Cardboard Boat Race and the Riverhead Rocks Triathlon, going on its second year, will be combined into one weekend of fun June 29-30.

“We always had the boat race on that [last] Sunday [in June], but because the triathlon depends on the way the tides are, it worked out that the tides will be perfect for the way they need to be for that Sunday,” said Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District.

The boat race will be June 29 and the triathlon June 30.

Last year’s boat race had close to 100 participants, and brought more than 2,500 people to Riverhead, Mr. Pickersgill said. “It’s amazing people come from all over the island to come and participate in this.”

The event is an opportunity to bring families together.

“Last year I had one mother say to me, ‘You know my son and daughter fight all year long, but the two months before the race they are as thick as thieves building their boat,’ ” Mr. Pickersgill said.

The inaugural Riverhead Rocks Triathlon also drew quite the crowd last year, with more than 450 participants. This year more than 1,000 participants are expected to race, Mr. Pickersgill said.

Last year “the hotels were all booked solid,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “All the restaurants were packed with the people buying dinner and lunch.”

Booths will be set up for local restaurants to sell food during the triathlon and for non-profit organizations to fundraise, Mr. Pickersgill said.

In an effort to promote downtown Riverhead to potential business owners, the district will also open “pop-up stores,” in the empty storefronts on Main Street. With the permission of the landlords, “the empty buildings get transformed for the day and become businesses,” Mr. Pickersgill said.  “So that they can see what it’s like on Main Street, and maybe they will decide to come back.”

Depending on the landlords’ permission, they may be able to open the “pop-up” stores for both events.

“It’s just a great, great family day,” Mr. Pickersgill said.

Last year the Cardboard Boat Race won the Verizon Fios “Best Community Event on Long Island” award, and the Riverhead Rocks Triathlon won its “Best New Event” category.

For information about the either event visit www.riverheadbid.com. For further information on Riverhead Rocks Triathlon visit www.riverheadrocks.com.

cmiller@timesreview.com

01/29/13 8:00am
01/29/2013 8:00 AM
Anthony Coates, Supervisor Sean Walter, Jodi Giglio, Riverhead

FILE PHOTO | Anthony Coates last year, announcing his intentions to run for Town Council.

Saying he didn’t want politics too mixed up in downtown business efforts, declared Town Council candidate Anthony Coates resigned from the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association last week.

Mr. Coates, a downtown Riverhead resident who does not own a business in the area, has served as resident director of the BID Management Association since 2010, when he was appointed by town financial head Bill Rothaar.

“I resigned because my name has been mentioned — most prominently by me — as a candidate this year,” Mr. Coates said. “And the business of the BID is too imporant and the progress we’ve made is too important to have the BID wrapped up in at least one moment’s discussion as to whether it’s political.”

Mr. Coates, also a political adviser to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, submitted a letter of resignation last Tuesday, about two months after he announced intentions to seek the Riverhead Republican nomination to run for a Town Council seat in November.

The BID is a taxing district that uses funds from area businesses to bring awareness and foot traffic downtown through events, promotions and capital projects. The Management Association manages planning and finances, though the Town Board officially makes up what’s called the BID board and votes on financial allocations and setting annual budgets.

BID Management Association president Ray Pickersgill said he would “truly miss” Mr. Coates.

“He was our spokesperson, emcee for all our events,” said Mr. Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon on East Main Street, “but also he was very instrumental in our dealings with Town Hall. He helped me a lot with day-to-day operations,especially corespondence to solicit sponsors and handling press releases. He is my friend and I wish him well.”

The BID Management Association’s board of directors comprises one supervisor appointee, currently Ed Densieski, the town financial coordinator appointee position that Mr. Coates held and a Town Board appointee, currently local architect Martin Sendlewski.

When “fully constituted, ” 13 people make up the BID Management Association’s board of directors, Mr. Coates said.

The other members are elected by BID taxpayers, with the next elections in June.

Meanwhile, the group does have a potential replacement resident director “who is very interested” in the volunteer job, Mr. Pickersgill said.

mwhite@timesreview.com

08/23/12 8:00pm
08/23/2012 8:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Events like the Mardi Gras festival could be history as the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association looks to scale down its schedule of events for coming years.

The Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association, which runs a slew of downtown events behind East Main Street using BID funds, is close to using up the entire $213,000 surplus it had 2 1/2 years ago, leaving no extra cash to throw around on what have come to be popular attractions like antique shows, country western concerts and music or Mardi Gras festivals.

Aside from scaling down its schedule of events for coming years, BIDMA leaders are also hoping to direct more funds toward capital projects, such as a year-round ice skating rink with a roof that could cost as much as $400,000, officials said.

According to town records, the BID’s adopted budget for 2011 was $101,540, yet by that year’s end, its actual spending amounted to $213,824 — more than double what was budgeted.

Likewise, in 2010, BIDMA’s adopted budget was $111,000 and its actual spending at the end of the year was $168,129.

It was fund balance — or reserves — that enabled the BID to exceed its adopted budgets by so much.

The BID ended 2009 with a surplus of more than $200,000 and has been spending down that amount for the past two and a half years, the records show.

Officials from BIDMA and the town say there is now very little left of that surplus.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who has often spoken highly of the current BID leadership, says he has no problem with that.

“The point of the BID budget is not to have a surplus,” he said. “It’s to get events and projects to promote downtown, and that’s what they are doing. I think the surplus is largely gone, but I don’t have a problem with them spending it.”

Town finance administrator Bill Rothaar said the town has a fund balance policy that recommends it keep a surplus that’s at least 15 percent of its budget, but he said the policy doesn’t apply to smaller special districts like the BID. He said he’s not aware of any laws prohibiting the type of large surplus the BID accumulated.

The BID ended 2009 with $212,283 in unspent funds from previous years, according to figures obtained from Mr. Rothaar.

By the end of 2010, the surplus was down to $137,659 and by the end of 2011, it was down to $27,841.

The BID is a taxing district that covers businesses in downtown Riverhead, which pay a special BID tax. The BID’s management association -— technically a nonprofit group separate from the taxing district itself — runs concerts and events designed to promote downtown. It also undertakes projects aimed at making the area more attractive to businesses and shoppers.

Riverhead’s five Town Board members are the commissioners of the BID, but the 12-member management association runs its day-to-day operations.

BIDMA basically stopped spending money on events and projects around 2005 through 2008, having accumulated a large debt following the 2005 Blues Festival, the last one run by the BID. That festival reportedly lost about $50,000, officials said at the time.

The Town Board had commissioned a report in 2005 that put the BID debt at $54,527. While the town made up that deficit through general fund taxes, BIDMA was made to repay the town through its budget, which the Town Board sets, in subsequent years.

Former BIDMA president Bill London told The News-Review in 2008 that its members spent much of 2006 and 2007 combing through financial records and cutting costs and that the BID didn’t fund many events and didn’t spend much of the taxes it collected during that time.

“We had a year of nothing,” former BIDMA vice president Vince Tria told The News-Review in 2008. “The town cut off the BID because of the prior mistakes.”

Officials said the BID had accumulated more than $200,000 by 2008 by not spending its money.

Current BIDMA president Ray Pickersgill said the BID had a huge surplus when he took over as president in 2010 and management association members felt the money should be spent.

“We weren’t supposed to have so much in our reserve account,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “I knew we had to use the reserve account, so we decided to take on every project we could possibly do.”

The BID budgets for 2010 and 2011, which were approved by the Town Board, included popular events like the Cardboard Boat Race, the Cruise Night car shows on Thursdays, a country western concert, an oldies concert, a holiday bonfire, a jazz concert and a Fourth of July concert and fireworks show.

The BID added a Mardi Gras festival in 2011 that was not in the original budget, which Mr. Pickersgill said ended up costing much more than expected.

“It cost about $40,000,” he said. “I expected it to cost about $20,000.”

But he said it was a good event that he’d like to bring back someday if the BID can afford it.

The BID also gave money to other nonprofit organizations, like the East End Arts Council, the Long Island Science Center and the Long Island Railroad Museum, he said. And he said BIDMA had to clear some up bills left over from prior boards.

In order to use surplus funds, Mr. Pickersgill said, the BIDMA board must approve it, and the Town Board must approve it.

Mr. Rothaar also said the Town Board must approve BID requests to use surplus money and the BIDMA must present a resolution from its board, however, he said the town doesn’t require those resolutions until the end of the year. He suggested the town should require the resolutions at the time of the request.

Mr. Pickersgill said that while the events over the past two years have brought people to downtown Riverhead and helped some of the businesses there, BIDMA probably will not be doing as many events next year because it won’t have the surplus money and because parking in downtown will be limited once the Summerwind apartment complex opens. That’s expected sometime this fall.

Because of this, he says, he is turning his attention — and the BID’s funds — toward building a synthetic ice skating rink in the downtown parking lot behind the former Swezey’s building.

The BID has a $100,000 county grant for this project and Mr. Pickersgill believes he can get another $100,000 grant as well.

The Town Board has yet to formally authorize Supervisor Sean Walter to sign the contract for that grant, and plans to discuss it further.

Initially, Town Board members were told by Councilman George Gabrielsen that the rink would not have a roof over it.

But last Wednesday, BIDMA said it wants the roof, which would also allow the structure to be used as a concert and events pavilion.

The project would cost about $200,000 without the roof.

BIDMA vice president Marty Sendlewski, an architect who is designing the project, said it would cost about $100,000 more to buy the roof and about another $100,000 to install it.

But Mr. Pickersgill believes the purchase and installation can be done for about $100,000 more, bringing the total to about $300,000.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/23/12 2:10pm

The proposed ice skating rink, which could be built with unspent funds from Riverhead Town’s sale of the Suffolk Theatre in 2005.

About $250,000 in unspent funds from Riverhead Town’s $707,000 sale of the Suffolk Theatre in 2005 could be used to build a synthetic ice skating rink in downtown Riverhead, Supervisor Sean Walter said Thursday.

The town also could get a $100,000 county grant for use on the rink project, he said.

The Riverhead Business Improvement District has proposed the rink on a location that’s in the riverfront parking lot near the unnamed road between Riverhead Diner and the former West Marine site.

Councilman George Gabrielsen had told the Town Board on Aug. 2 that the rink would initially be built without a roof. Ray Pickersgill, the president of the BID management association, estimated that the cost of the rink without the roof would be about $200,000, half of which would come from the grant.

But at a BID meeting last week, the management association said it felt the roof should be included, as the structure could also be used as a concert pavilion when it’s not used for skating.

The exact cost of the project with the roof has yet to be determined but will likely be in the $400,000 range, according to Martin Sendlewski, the BIDMA’s vice president as well as an architect who is working on the project. He said he is donating his services in designing the rink and pavilion.

Mr. Walter said the bulk of the money from the sale of the Suffolk Theatre was “swept” out of a capital account and used to offset taxes, but $250,000 was left. Town finance administrator Bill Rothaar had asked him Thursday morning, “just two minutes” before the town went into its work session, if he wanted to have that money put in a reserve fund, to which the supervisor agreed.

Mr. Walter said that during the work session discussion on the rink, “I changed my mind “ and got the idea to possibly apply that money toward the rink project.

The town still hasn’t officially received the $100,000 grant, which would come from the Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization program, and would be allocated toward the rink.

A resolution to authorize Mr. Walter to sign a contract for that grant was tabled at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, so the board could discuss the project at Thursday’s work session before making a decision to move forward with the grant.

Mr. Pickersgill said he hopes to also obtain corporate sponsorships to pay for part of the rink construction, and he added that there is the possibility of obtaining another $100,000 grant for the project.

The BID will seeks bids on the cost of the project, and Mr. Sendlewski suggested the BID seek separate bids for the pavilion, the synthetic ice, and for the foundation and construction costs.

The BID initially planned a much larger rink proposal that would measure 65 feet by 100 feet, and would have required the comfort station behind the former Swezey’s store to be relocated. They have since reduced the size to about 50 feet by 80 feet, Mr. Sendlewski said.

That size facility would be able to accommodate about 60 skaters at one time as well as about 300 people if a concert were held there, Mr. Sendlewski said.

Mr. Gabrielsen said he doesn’t think the proposed rink is big enough but other Town Board members liked its proposed size.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio suggested the town bond the cost of the facility rather than trying to pay for it with “cash” the town has on hand.

Mr. Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten opposed that idea. Mr. Walter said the town’s bond rating would be negatively impacted by bonding the project because the town already will have to pay off a lot of debt from its landfill in the next few years.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/04/12 10:35am
08/04/2012 10:35 AM

The Riverhead Town Board stopped short of authorizing Supervisor Sean Walter to sign a contract to accept a $100,000 grant to pay for part of the cost of installing a synthetic ice skating rink in downtown Thursday, as board members wanted to discuss it further after raising concerns about the cost, although the numbers they discussed were apparently wrong.

The rink, which is proposed to be located next to the comfort station behind the former West Marine building on East Main Street, is expected to cost $225,000, according to Councilman George Gabrielsen.

The town is eligible for a county downtown revitalization fund grant that would cover $100,000 of the cost.
Mr. Gabrielsen said the other $125,000 would be paid by the downtown Business Improvement District, which is pushing the project.

But BID president Ray Pickersgill, who wasn’t present for the discussion, said in an interview Friday that those numbers are wrong.

“We’ve reduced the size of the rink and we’ve got the additional cost down to about $80,000,” he said. The BID will be able to cover that cost throughout its budget next year, and by reducing its spending on other items, he said.

The BID budget this year is about $118,000.

The Town Board had planned to vote on a resolution at Tuesday’s regular board meeting to authorize the supervisor to sign the contract with Suffolk County to accept the grant money.

The resolution, which also says the town will contribute services from its engineering, community development and buildings and grounds departments, was discussed at the board’s work session Thursday. Board members ultimately decided to discuss it further at next Thursday’s work session, when Mr. Pickersgill can be present.

Mr. Walter was not present at Thursday’s discussion.

Read the complete story in the Aug. 9 issue of The Riverhead News-Review.