Downtown theater restoration in the works

The Suffolk Theatre on Main Street has sat untouched for three years.

The owner of downtown’s long-shuttered Suffolk Theatre appears to be making some moves to start renovating the 76-year-old art deco venue.

Bob Castaldi, who earlier this year settled a lawsuit with Riverhead Town, filed building permit applications last week to begin work on what will be the theater office and ticket window to the immediate west of the entrance on East Main Street.

“We want to get that up and running first,” Mr. Castaldi said of the box office. “We want to get computers in there, get a mailing address and some furniture and then take it from there.”

Once that office is up and running, he said, he plans to submit building permit applications for the main structure.

Under the terms of the legal settlement reached earlier this year, the town agreed to stop trying to take back the property, which Mr. Castaldi had purchased from the town in 2005 for $707,000 but made no substantial progress on. In turn, Mr. Castaldi agreed to file all of the theater’s building permits by Aug. 22.

Mr. Castaldi wants to renovate and reopen the building as a performing arts center.

He had stopped working on the theater after suing the town in 2007, claiming it was deliberately stalling his restoration efforts because it wanted to give the property to another developer, Apollo Real Estate Advisors, which purchased the adjacent Woolworth building and had plans to build a multiplex theater, hotel and speciality food store there.

The contract selling the theater to Mr. Castaldi included a clause saying that if the renovation wasn’t substantially completed within three years of the date of sale, the town could seek to take the theater back.

But last November’s town elections brought a new administration to the town, and the new Town Board members, led by Supervisor Sean Walter, said they had no interest in taking the theater back. The settlement was signed in March.

Mr. Castaldi said he had obtained some building permits in 2005, but they lapsed after the work hadn’t started. He’s planning to build only within the existing footprint of the theater.

“We’re really starting from square one,” he said. “But we’re quietly, behind the scenes, moving forward. We’re trying to get back the momentum we had in 2005. We’re five years older and five years poorer but we survived all the nonsense.”

The property’s condition over the last three years, when no work was taking place, also has come under criticism from some people.

Not only is the building’s second story collecting graffiti, Riverhead resident Warren McKnight said he called town code enforcers many times about piles of wood and garbage in the back of the building. That was cleaned up earlier this month, although Mr. McKnight points out that there is still a pile of garbage in a below-ground staircase behind the theater.

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