Riverhead gets $500K to help revamp Main St.

Riverhead Town has been awarded a $500,000Êstate grant for Main Street revitalization efforts. Half that money will be used for restoration of the long-shuttered Suffolk Theatre.

Riverhead Town was recently awarded a competitive $500,000 state grant for Main Street revitalization efforts, half of which must go toward renovation of the Suffolk Theatre, the town’s community development office announced last week.

The money, which will come from the state Office of Community Renewal’s Main Street grant program, will be used for restoration of the long-shuttered East Main Street theater. That grant must be matched by at least $167,000 from owner, Pike Realty president Robert Castaldi, a number he said the company will have no problem reaching.

The remaining $250,000 will fund building renovations in the downtown area. Business owners in the Riverhead Business Improvement District can apply for portions of the money to reimburse 75 percent of building costs.

Every project must be individually approved by the state, according to the Community Development Director Christine Kempner.

She said the agency has been working closely with Riverhead and was drawn to the Suffolk Theatre because it was built under the Federal Theatre Project, which was part of the New Deal in the 1930s. That project aimed to fund theater and other live artistic performances during the Great Depression.

The state money can be used for exterior work on buildings that visually enhances Riverhead’s downtown.

“It tends to be focused on facades and interior renovations,” Ms. Kempner said. The funds could be available to area businesses as soon as late September, she said.

Riverhead had applied for the $500,000 grant in years past, Ms. Kempner said, but only received $200,000 grants twice before. To date, Riverhead Town has been awarded $900,000 in Main Street funding from the state.

Ms. Kempner estimates that four to 10 businesses in addition to the Suffolk Theatre could benefit from the grant. There is no deadline for the money to be spent.

Suffolk Theatre owner Bob Castaldi said his portion of the money will most likely be used for infrastructure upgrades and to put LED lights on a new marquee.

“This will be a great shot in the arm,” he said. “Every penny is going to be put to good use.”

Last month, work began on the theater’s office and ticket booth. Mr. Castaldi, who purchased the theater from the town in 2005, said permits to start work on the rest of the building are still pending, but added the grant will speed the project along.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said during a kickoff ceremony for the Suffolk Theatre restoration project last month that he hopes to see the entire north side of Main Street occupied by this time next year.

“The Town of Riverhead greatly appreciates the assistance of New York State in helping downtown Riverhead reach its full economic development potential,” he said of the grant.

Mr. Castaldi plans to reopen the theater as a performing arts center and single-screen theater. 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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