Riverhead Town pols take sides over movie theater proposals

12/15/2010 3:30 PM |

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The former Woolworth building (right) on East Main Street, where big-name developers are reportedly looking to build a 16-screen cineplex. Supervisor Sean Walter favors such a theater downtown, while Councilman Jim Wooten is hopeful the group behind the Vintage Square proposal will build a cineplex north of downtown, near the courts.

The development proposal known as Vintage Square at Riverhead appears to be stuck in planning purgatory as Town Board members bang heads over separate movie theater proposals.

In the works for more than two years, the Vintage Square project calls for not only a multiplex movie theater but also a parking garage, workforce housing units and stores on Railroad Avenue near the court district north of downtown.

But this Wednesday marked the expiration of the project’s fourth six-month extension of its “qualified and eligible sponsor” status, which the developer needs to move forward. The Town Board granted that extension June 15 and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said then that it would be the group’s last.

“If this doesn’t happen, this project is over,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor stuck to his guns this week, in part because he favors a downtown cinema project he said is already in the works. He declined to provide details, but other Town Board members identified well-known Long Island developers Ron Parr and Wilbur Breslin as potential backers of a 16-screen cinema project at the site of the former Woolworth building property on East Main Street.

As for Vintage Square, Mr. Walter denied a request from Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy for a special Town Board meeting on Wednesday, at which the two councilmen hoped to call for a vote on whether or not to grant the group another six-month extension.

“I truly believe that if we are to do anything with this project, Vintage Square should be required to go through a complete ‘qualified and eligible sponsorship’ hearing again,” Mr. Walter said. “If this is really a real proposal, let them go through a full hearing again because more than two years have passed and nothing has happened.”

Led by John Burke of Riverhead, the Vintage Square group has called the proposal a “transit-oriented development” because it calls for shuttle buses to take people to and from the Orient ferry and because it would be adjacent to the train station and bus stop. Vintage Square also proposes to provide parking for the adjacent court buildings. In addition to town-owned land, the group seeks to acquire private property along Railroad Avenue and its surrounding streets and would demolish structures on them.

Mr. Burke said he would not comment until after Wednesday’s deadline.

The “qualified and eligible sponsor” designation for Vintage Square is required under urban renewal laws because the developers are seeking to buy a portion of town-owned land that is currently in use as a parking lot. The designation means, in this case, that the buyers have been found to have the financial wherewithal to complete their proposal.

Mr. Wooten, who has spoken highly of the project, said he’s confident he would have support from a majority of the five-member Town Board if a vote came up to grant another extension to Vintage Square. He said Vintage already has financial commitments for the project.

“The reason I’m such a big proponent of Vintage is the location, and it calls for a parking garage, which is going to be sorely needed as the redevelopment of Main Street happens,” Mr. Wooten said.

“It’s near the courts,” he added. “It’s near transportation, including the terminus of routes 71 and 72. It’s near the railroad. And the fact that you can run trolleys out of there just lends itself to a beautiful bookend with Atlantis, the hotel and aquarium at one end of town and Vintage at the other.”

Although its “qualified and eligible” extension expired Wednesday, Mr. Walter said that doesn’t mean Vintage Square must start from scratch, even if he thinks they should be required to. “If three board members were so inclined, they could retroactively extend it from Dec. 15 at the next Town Board meeting” on Dec. 21, he said.

But the supervisor expressed concern about what Mr. Wooten liked best about the project: the parking garage. “The county has made a tremendous investment with the new and rebuilt courts. I don’t know how one would close off that parking lot and build a garage, should [the town] sell the land to them. My money’s on a movie theater downtown,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Wooten insisted parking restraints will be a problem for any cinema proposal for East Main Street, as did Mr. Dunleavy.

Mr. Dunleavy said the supervisor is being “pig headed” in holding up Mr. Burke.

“[Mr. Walter] doesn’t want this to happen and he’s going to do whatever it takes to stop it because he wants movies on Main Street,” he said. “I don’t think Main Street is a good place for a multiplex; railroad Avenue is.”

Mr. Burke in June said he expected the Vintage Square project to cost $61.3 million.

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she spoke to Mr. Parr this week about his potential multiplex plans for downtown.

She said that while she likes the Vintage plans, she has her concerns.

“Ron Parr is a proven developer and he seems to have all his ducks in a row,” she said. “I’m concerned that if we extend Vintage Group, we might be subject to litigation if we approve another movie theater somewhere else. I want to check with the town attorney on that.”

She said she has no problem with the Vintage group proposal otherwise.

“They’re not tying up town property and they’re not costing us money. I want a theater,” she said.

Ms. Giglio said there also is a question as to whether the town could extend Vintage Square’s qualified and eligible status because they have new financial backing since their original hearing.

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19 Comment

  • Why don’t we finish the bowling alley before we start another new project….

  • Where would multiplex cinema go? I deeply suspect such ridiculously huge developer projects. Do a great job on ONE cinema. I mean like check out Patchogue Arts centre.

    Are we talking about new developer’s monster malls again? I mean anything that calls itself vintage ends up being a ghost of the thing torn down to make way to it. I’d be a joke, except it isn’t.

    I’ve no liking for parking lots but what local buildings will be torn down? Again, I feel cynical as the same battles rage out on Long Island against more and more malls and shopping centres. FILL THE STORES THERE NOW. Or fix up and replace some with the kind of town centre stuff that suits. If the approach is to make this place a suburban shopping mall then wouldn’t THAT be a surprise?! Somebody tell me it ain’t true!

  • PS. What bowling alley and where? Yes, exactly. No problem with leisure facilities. It’s where it’s put and how it’s done.

  • You can be guaranteed that Sean has some hidden agenda behind the scenes on this one, and it should raise questions. Downtown is no place for such a theater, seeing how the traffic and parking are already brutal.

  • For crying out loud put a movie theatre on Rt 58….downtown riverhead and railroad ave is worth your life after dark……put it either where the bankrupt bowling alley was suppossed to be or put it at the former Rolle Brothers site….plenty of room there for a theatre and for parking…..and much safer location than main street or hell hole railroad ave..

    How many more trips out of town do we local residents have to take? Put the movies on Rt 58…Just DO IT!!

  • I feel everyone should go back and look at the photo with this theatre story…daytime photo showing parts of the theatre building and then the entire line of buildings starting where Woolworth’s use to be.

    Notice anything???…weeping yet? Notice not a single car in sight or even a single pedesterian? Here it is the busiest time of the shopping year and not a single sign of life in the photo……and we’re are just weeks away from it being the year 2011. And nothing has really changed over the past decade or two.

    Bulldoze large buildings and open up the river view from the street…and then have main street become Restaurant Row U.S.A……we already have long time Restaurants….Diggers, Pizza, the Greek place, the Diner, The Tuccio ones…..the Culinary…Poppa Nicks and on and on…make every single space available and advertise nationwide to come open your restaurant on Restaurant Row, Main Street, Riverhead NY……of all different kinds foods from countries around the world…make main street become known as the best place in the entire United States to come to to eat the best of foods from around the world…..all with a river view with plenty of free parking…..but apartments for living above the resturants…

    We already have RT 58 has shoppers row, Roanoke Ave as Doctors Row, now its time to turn Main Street into world famous Restaurant Row.

    And put the movie theater and the rest where it belongs…on shoppers row ( RT 58 )

  • Parking is brutal? What’s all that huge parking space along the river then?!

    I have to say that THERE’S a missed chance. River views and what’s along it? Nothing, except a parking lot! I actually think a Main St. cinema might be nice but not a multiplex, but instead local one. Mix of blockbuster and Indie films, cafe, maybe bar and even perhaps using space for other community talks, whatever.

    Where would it go? How about the cinema?! Multiplex belongs on 58 Don’t we need to be thoughtful and creative about downtown Riverhead unless one is going to turn it into the usual soulless suburban mall, which seems to be the American story: ruin what you have and then build fake ye olde stuff supposedly celebrating that which no longer exists! Restaurants, shops, sure. How old-fashioned of me.

  • I agree with Efs…make it a Foreign/Indie/etc….

    However, downtown Riverdead NEEDS revival…so if there is a live one to make that happen, then perhaps it should be tried…

    Why won’t the board allow a movie theatre on 58? Seems counter-intuitive…I thought there was going to be one a long time ago…


  • Ron Parr a qualified developer, what about parr meadows and the wilbur Brieslin mall….anyone remember those?

  • Put a multiplex where the bowling alley was supposed to be. Put a one or two screen cinema where the old movie theatre is. Indie films, live shows… somehow get the owner to the buildings he’s hoarding along the waterfront to let go of them so that the town can be revitalized. NOTHING is going to happen. Why is the owner hoarding these empty buildings? To what end?

  • Let’s not rush into anything yet.
    We should wait and see if something better comes along.
    That’s how it’s been done in the past .

  • I like a theater on Main street but not 16 screens.I never cared for the Vintage parking garage we waited long enough..time for them to hit the road…..

  • Lets be serious…Vintage who? Come on people there is an opportunity here to actually get people in town…lets deal with the parking situation when there is actually a situation….there is plenty of parking in town go down there on a Friday or Saturday night…it is a ghost town because there is nothing to do!!!! There are plenty of houses that are falling apart close to town that could be purchased and turned into additional parking.

    I am all for it!!!!! Way to go SEAN!

  • We really like Stonington.

  • which would be why i rarely have to leave home!

  • Too bad the people who usually visit here are rude….

  • Was born and raised there and moved away some years ago but miss it very much,a great place to live and enjoy life.

  • We should be seeing less plastic water bottles in the recycle bin because they are now worth a nickel to return! Not mentioned is styrofoam. Are blocks or nuggets recyclable?