05/20/13 1:38pm
05/20/2013 1:38 PM
Pickersgill's Robert James salon

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO| Downtown Riverhead looking west from the second floor above Robert James Salon on East Main Street.

I read John Finnegan’s column about his experience trying to site his zip line in downtown Riverhead.

I thought the column was nasty and unnecessary. It reminded me of two truths learned while growing up. One, never be a cry baby. Two, as my father would say, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Mr.Finnegan ran his idea by a group of businesses downtown and the Town Board, the idea seemed to falter as quick as it was proposed.

Let’s deal in a few facts:

Mr. Finnegan has never built or run a zip line.

Mr. Finnegan’s company was just formed, has no funds, has not done a dollar’s worth of business and is trying to raise money online to support his idea.

The zip line as-proposed would run the lenth of the boardwalk downtown and completely compromise the waterfront. It would be a huge, potential liability, costing the town more in increased insurance premiums.

The zip line would strain what is fast becomming a heavily trafficked parking lot, and in return Riverhead would receive — if he is successful —$37,000 a year in total revenue.

This, when according to all the parking studies, each spot is worth $100,000 dollars to downtown businesses. Many downtown visitors and residents have expressed that screaming zip liners overhead is not the experience they are looking for when they stroll the riverfront.

Can you think of any waterfront towns with zip lines running over them?

As businesses downtown, we met with Mr. Finnegan and shared our concerns. We kept an open mind. We tried to be positive and gave him good suggestions on other places for it in the town.

He told us the only place he would consider is downtown. When he saw the Town Board and the businesses had a lot of quetions he could not answer, he decided to make sarcastic comments about our town. He displayed pictures of empty stores, dumpsters and boarded-up windows.

Yes, Mr. Finnegan, we know we use dumpsters downtown and we are working on coming up with a better system, which we have already done on the other side of Main Street.

Yes, we know we have some empty stores, but it is also hard to find tenants to fill 12,000- to 24,000-square-foot storefronts. Believe me, I have tried.

You mentioned Dee Muma, Ray Dickhoff, Anthony Coates and myself. You implied the business community and us do not know what’s good for downtown. Mr. Finnegan, we make our living here. We employ a lot of people here. I have my entire life savings invested here.

And, you know what? There is no other place I would rather be. I am sure the others feel the same.

We volunteer here. We work here. And we are commited to make this town grow and prosper. We aren’t where we want to be yet, but we aren’t where we used to be either. Something called a recession got in our way, then a storm called Sandy.

You are a guy from out of town with a dream, but no money or experience. Forgive me, but Riverhead has seen it’s share of snakeoil salesmen over the years. When someone comes with an idea now, we check them out. After all, it affects everyone.

We did not kick you out of town. We tried to give you alternatives. But instead, you kick us on the way out of town. To me that shows what kind of neighbor you would have been. Your angry letter was a turnoff for me and an insult to the town I have come to love.

Ray Pickersgill is the owner of Robert James Salon and did not write this column on behalf of the parking district or business district.

05/16/13 3:30pm
05/16/2013 3:30 PM

liveblog

A plan by Urban Zip Lines for a 70-foot high, 817-foot long zip line along the Peconic River in downtown Riverhead would only be possible by late summer at the earliest, Riverhead Town officials said at Thursday’s Town Board work session.

The project would have to be subjected to a public hearing before it can be approved.

John Finnegan, the Westchester man who is proposing the venture, said after the meeting that he still intends to try and get the zip line up this year, but he’s not optimistic, following Thursday’s discussion. He said 2014 is more likely.

Mr. Finnegan said he doesn’t want to put the facility at another location, and feels downtown is the best spot for it, and he thinks it will help bring visitors downtown.

The project was met with opposition Thursday from Summerwind Square owner Ray Dickhoff, Dark Horse Restaurant owner Dee Muma, and downtown resident Anthony Coates. Vic Prusinowski of Cody’s BBQ said he has an open mind on the issue.

To read the recap of our live blog of the work session, click below:

 

May_16,_2013_-_Agenda by rnews_review

05/10/13 6:15pm
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