Artist housing planned for downtown Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Dee Muma in the hallway which leads from the back entrance to her restaurant The Dark Horse. The walls will be used for public gallery space.

Riverhead officials have long hoped to create artist housing in the downtown area, but developers showed little interest in providing it.

Now, Dark Horse restaurant owner Dee Muma has plans to do just that.

Ms. Muma recently purchased 10 Peconic Avenue, which is the building just south of Dark Horse, which had been occupied by a church in recent years. She is working with the East End Arts Council in seeking a National Endowment for the Arts grant to help develop a plan to attract artists and to develop a model that can be replicated elsewhere in town, according to the EEAC’s executive director, Pat Snyder.

“It’s been proven that if your put the arts in the middle of a town, the town can flourish,” Ms. Snyder said.

“The [National Endowment] wants something that’s unique and available to the whole community,” said Chris Kempner, Riverhead Town’s Community Development director, who is working on the grant application. “They want to see a sort of systematic redevelopment strategy that might catch on.”

Ms. Muma said 10 Peconic Avenue is currently “two and a half floors” and she plans to make it three floors by extending the current third floor — which only covers the Peconic Avenue side — to the rest of the red brick building.

Once that’s complete, she envisions putting four or five studio/living spaces on the third floor, with affordable loft apartments on the second floor.

Ms. Muma already is working on creating a free public gallery on the ground floor, in a passageway that leads from the riverfront parking lot to Peconic Avenue.

“This will be an area where artwork can be displayed on a rotating basis, maybe whatever the East End Arts Council is doing,” she said. “It will be a public space, a free gallery,” she said.

The walkway, which she jokingly calls the “northwest passage,” has an entrance to Dark Horse but people can use it even if they aren’t going to the restaurant, she said.

The room next to it is also envisioned as a gallery, Ms. Muma said. She’s currently hoping to acquire some historical pictures of Riverhead to place in that room and the walkway.

“We need something that speaks to our history,” she said. “We don’t want some generic rebuild by a trendy company with no roots in the area.”

The grant must be applied for by the town, and town officials voiced support for the idea when it was discussed last Thursday at a public Town Board work session. “If it’s not costing us anything and we can benefit from it and get Peconic Avenue done sooner than later, I love it,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said.

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