07/15/13 4:25pm
07/15/2013 4:25 PM
Suffolk theater

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The theater marquis in downtown Riverhead.

Nearly a month to the day from when Athens Grill in Riverhead was devastated by a grease fire, the neighboring Suffolk Theater will host a fundraiser to help support the restaurant’s grill chef and owner John Mantzopoulos rebuild.

John Mantzopoulos

John Mantzopoulos

While Mr. Mantzopoulos estimates it will take at least six months before the restaurant could re-open, regulars won’t have to wait that long to enjoy some of their favorite Athens menu items. Mr. Mantzopoulos will be back in the kitchen at the Suffolk Theater, cooking his Greek specialties for the event. The theatre’s regular menu will be available as well.

This is the second fundraiser for Mr. Mantzopoulos’ reconstruction efforts. On July 6, dozens of friends and fellow downtown restaurant owners banded together “Rebuild Athens” fundraiser hosted by The Riverhead Project, another restaurant.

The evening will feature live performances by popular local bands Who Are Those Guys and Craving Strange.

The fundraiser is scheduled for July 27 at 7 p.m. at The Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main Street in Riverhead.

Tickets are $20 (and count as a donation; feel free to give more) and are available at The Suffolk Theater Box Office, or at the door.

All proceeds go toward the Athens Grill Restoration Project.

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PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The interior of the Athens Grill three days after the fire.

08/23/12 2:10pm
08/23/2012 2:10 PM

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.

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07/31/12 8:00pm
07/31/2012 8:00 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The NOFO Rock & Folk Fest at Peconic Bay Winery was one attempt to bring live music to the North Fork.

At the risk of stirring up some of those old “Troy has South Fork envy” complaints that arose many years ago when I compared downtown Greenport unfavorably to downtown Sag Harbor, this week I wish to discuss the distinct differences between Long Island’s two forks when it comes to presenting live music.

At its most elemental level, it comes down to this: How come the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is so vital but Riverhead’s Suffolk Theatre remains stuck in neutral several decades after it was first proposed as a performing arts center?

Or why does East Hampton’s Stephen Talkhouse nightclub consistently attract nationally acclaimed performers while North Fork venues present mostly local talent.

Call me negative, but when I think of live music here I think mostly of what might have been. Like the several hundred hearty souls who attended the East End Arts Council’s Delbert McClinton concert at the Talmage farm on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow.

Or the disappointing turnouts (to me, at least) at the first two NOFO Music Festivals at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue — although festival organizer Josh Horton has a more upbeat interpretation of that experience, as expressed in his comments below. Or the suspension for one year of the Riverhead Blues Festival, followed by a 2012 resumption that left the sponsor, Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, thousands of dollars in the red.

There have been some limited successes, of course. Like the short-lived rock and roll shows promoter Preston Powell once brought to the movie theater in Greenport. Or the generally low-key musical performances that have become standard at North Fork vineyards. (Said one wag I surveyed on this question: “It’s just that those bands all work for less than $200.”)

Or the live music offerings of The Arts in Southold Town — although even that volunteer-based organization was forced to disband in part because of the rigors of presenting.

Also on the plus side of the ledger, says East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder, is “the success of Winterfest Jazz on the Vine, which drew an estimated 7,500 people to the North Fork in the dead of winter. Even though vineyards were not built for performance,” she continues, “we make the best of it (along with a really good glass of wine) and enjoy world-class music. Last winter we had at least six Grammy-winning or -nominated musicians. The audience came from well beyond the Suffolk County borders. I believe it’s a matter of knowing who we are as an area and leveraging those qualities.”

What it comes down to — most of the people I’ve spoken to seem to agree — is geography and demographics.

Geographically speaking, Westhampton is much more accessible to the hundreds of thousands of potential customers who live in Brookhaven and Southampton towns. What’s more, as another friend points out, somewhat defensively, “While North Forkers will readily go to the South Side for stuff, those people often feel like they’re taking their lives in their own hands to come north.”

Demographically speaking, there’s significantly more wealth and a younger audience on the South Fork. The kind of wealth, in the form of corporate sponsorships and individual donations, that can help underwrite operating losses at the performing arts center in Westhampton.

And the kind of audience that most likely will sell out upcoming shows for such big name acts as Rufus Wainwright, Joe Walsh, Pat Metheny and k.d. lang. And with ticket prices ranging from just under $100 to just under $150!

Price resistance is definitely a factor here on the North Fork. One-day passes to the NOFO Fest approached $50, and even at that comparatively low level there appeared to be resistance. That’s one of the reasons why NOFO will be reconstituted this summer as a concert series instead of a multiple-day festival.

Still, organizer Josh Horton chooses to place a more upbeat spin on the change of plans, saying it’s “not grounded in the difficulty of producing live music initiatives.” Nor was he discouraged by the response to the first two festivals.

Instead, he says, “There’s a tremendous opportunity and demand for quality live music. That’s what we experienced with the first two NOFO festivals in 2010 and ’11. But this year, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Instead of being all things to all people over the course of two days,” he said, NOFO will become a concert series that presents national acts in a “more intimate setting.” And at a significantly reduced price.

Case in point: the just-announced tribute to Levon Helm, the recently departed founding member of The Band, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19, on the main lawn at Peconic Bay Winery. It will feature Helm’s daughter, Amy Helm, and the Dirt Farmer Band, which backed up Levon Helm on two award-winning albums. And tickets will be priced at just $20 in advance, $25 at the gate.

So instead of needing to sell 1,000 tickets, as they did with the larger festival, Josh said, they’ll need to sell 200 to 300.

“We want to make sure the focus is on the music,” he said, noting how the “time and focus spent on vendors and additional activities became a large part of the festival and diminished the focus on the music.”

So, North Fork music fans, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Let’s start small, with the purchase of a ticket or two for the Levon Helm show. And if that works out, we can start to think bigger, say the purchase and remodeling of the old Greenport Auditorium into a live contemporary music venue that makes the ghost of Stephen Talkhouse wish his Native American tribe had relocated to the North Fork.

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12/09/10 3:43pm
12/09/2010 3:43 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Downtown's shuttered Suffolk Theatre has not shown a movie since 1987

The owner of downtown’s long-shuttered Suffolk Theatre said construction on the 77-year-old building’s ticket booth and general offices has been progressing nicely since he won back control of the theater in the spring after a prolonged legal dispute with Riverhead Town.

And though he expects the winter to slow work at the building, which isn’t heated, he hopes to open for business in about a year, either the fall or winter of 2011, he told the News-Review Thursday.

“We’ve been working steady there in the offices to the left side of the main office and we’re a couple of days away from getting a [building] permit for the rest of the theater,” owner Bob Castaldi said. “If we can get heat we can continue working through the winter on that. Because it’s a small area, it’s manageable. But the rest of the building is just a big, giant, cold concrete box. It can take months to get some kind of heat in there.”

Mr. Castaldi purchased the art deco-style theater, built in 1933, from Riverhead Town in 2005 for $707,000, but the restoration stalled and he became involved in litigation with the town in 2007. That litigation was settled earlier this year, when newly elected Town Board members said they had no interest in re-acquiring the theater through a reverter clause in the contract. That clause allowed the town to retake ownership of the building if work wasn’t substantially completed within three years of the sale, which it was not.

Later this year it was announced that Mr. Castaldi would be receiving $250,000 from a $500,000 state Main Street revitalization grant to aid in his efforts.

Mr. Castaldi plans to reopen the theater as a performing arts center and single-screen theater that would also do cabaret-style performances, with tables replacing the seats. To allow for that, the theater’s sloped floor will be replaced with “terraced” seating.

“Rather than have that slope, it’s going to be flat for say 15 feet, then it drops a step. We’re going to put in radiant heat,” he explained while ticking off other points of the project. “We’re redoing all the bathrooms. We’re going from three commodes for the women and three for the men to about 13, 14, now, for each. The theater is going to function a lot better than the original did. We’re doing a full restoration of it. We’ve got to do fire upgrades and certain things to building code, but we’re going to try to keep the feeling and atmosphere and the look of what it was when it was originally built in 1933.
“But we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

The Suffolk Theatre hasn’t been used as a movie theater since 1987. The town acquired it in 1994 but was never able to reopen it.

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