Grandiose ideas are destined to fail

09/16/2010 12:00 AM |

Most people hate change. I relish it. I like it when things are new and different and uncertain. For one thing, I’ve always gotten a thrill out of new building proposals and especially the artists’ renderings that come with them.

Until recently, if someone had pitched a plan to build an MGM Grand casino at the end of my block, I probably would have been all for it — as long as someone showed me a nice drawing.

Reporting on Riverhead Town has pretty much knocked those feelings out of me. I’m now wise beyond my years.

During former supervisor Phil Cardinale’s administration, it seemed as if every Town Board meeting brought with it a new exhibition of fancy drawings on easels, usually courtesy of Apollo Real Estate Advisors. None of those drawings ever came close to becoming a reality for Riverhead. But they did serve to help string some people along, probably most of all Apollo’s investors. And Mr. Cardinale, of course.

The former supervisor was convinced that the Apollo group — along with some other outfits such as Vintage Square (check for nice drawings), which he often referred to as “these deep-pocketed developers” — were the answer to downtown’s troubles. But Apollo’s $500 million vision for East Main Street collapsed. The investment group owns just one building that, despite rumors, still sits empty. Vintage Square got its last six-month extension on its proposed $61.3 million project in the spring. The public hasn’t heard from them since.

I don’t think the people behind the granddaddy of all the crazy ideas, Riverhead Resorts, ever had enough money for detailed drawings of their proposed 755-acre hotels and resorts complex in Calverton. Its website shows just a bunch of pictures from other places around the world. Either way, the Town Board bent over backwards for these developers — yet it waged war against Suffolk Theatre owner Bob Castaldi. Mr. Castaldi eventually sued the town, accusing officials of trying to stall his work because it didn’t fit into Apollo’s vision for Riverhead. I don’t know Mr. Castaldi, but I agree with his take on things.

He’s working with the town now; he just learned he’ll have access to $250,000 in state grants for his restoration project. Meanwhile, one by one, all the massive plans for Riverhead Town are falling apart.

The Apollo vision was the first to go. Blunders came right out of the gate. The group was chosen as the town’s “Master Developer” after pitching an idea to clone Baltimore’s Inner Harbor complex on the Peconic River. But they had to abandon those plans when the reality of a consistently flooding river soon set in. Apollo’s repeated attempts to salvage something grand for downtown were futile, aside from those nice drawings.

Then we had Riverhead Resorts, which apparently still hopes to build a $1 billion recreational complex at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, yet can’t come up with the measly $3.9 million it owes the town under a sales contract. That group, comprising foreign investors, will likely roll up its plans in a few months and go home — wherever their homes may be — just like the Apollo investors.

As if things couldn’t look worse, the least risky of all the big proposed projects to come out of the Cardinale-era, the one pushed by Rechler Equity Partners, may also soon go up in smoke.

Rechler on Aug. 5 paid $125,000 for a three-month extension on deciding whether to go ahead with an $18 million deal for 300 acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. But that’s not all that happened with Rechler this summer: The well-established Melville-based developer floated an idea to abandon its laudable proposal for a hi-tech industrial park in favor of a mixed-use plan that would include commercial and residential components. That idea landed with a thud in Town Hall and our editorial pages. Perhaps most important, it showed that Rechler’s designs for Calverton probably aren’t for real.

One could blame the faltering economy for all the failed proposals, but if these ideas hadn’t all been so grandiose, if not downright bizarre, they would not have moved at such a snail’s pace to begin with — and ultimately end up lost in the abyss of the recession.

Between studies, lawsuits, protests, renegotiations and threats of condemnation — never mind attempts to get financing for such enormous projects