A dinner cruise boat would be welcome in downtown Riverhead, as long as town officials can devise a way to “even the playing field” so that the boat does not have an unfair advantage over existing restaurants and businesses that pay property taxes.
That was the consensus among Riverhead Town Board members and representatives of the downtown Business Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce during a meeting with the boat’s owners in Town Hall on Thursday.
The boat, called The Cabana, is 98 feet long and 30 feet wide, and had been operating in New York City.
Its owners are now looking to dock it on the East End, and have made Riverhead their first choice.
Town officials had initially voiced concern that boat patrons might take up too many parking spaces along the riverfront behind East Main Street. They also worried that the vessel would have an unfair advantage over existing businesses.
“We have to make sure that your docking fees are equivalent to the taxes that a business would pay,” Supervisor Sean Walter told The Cabana’s owners at the meeting. “We can’t let you have an unfair advantage.”
Former Riverhead councilman and soon-to-be downtown restaurateur Vic Prusinowski, who was also at the meeting, said that when he was on the Town Board 15 years ago, a similar arrangement was worked out with the owners of the Peconic River Queen cruise boat, which has since left. That agreement assigned a docking fee determined by a formula devised by town assessors and based on the per-seat average that downtown restaurants would pay.
Mr. Walter said he would try to dig up that agreement and use it to develop an agreement with The Cabana group.
Vito DiCandia, one of the partners in The Cabana group, said he and the others are not opposed to paying their fair share, as long as the fee isn’t “going to cripple us.”
“We have to level the playing field,” Mr. Walter said.
Mr. DiCandia argued that The Cabana would actually boost business for local restaurants because it would use them for catered events on the boat. “We are not looking to hurt local businesses,” he said.
The boat owners also don’t think parking will be an issue because most of their cruises will be in the evening.
“We’ll fix the parking issue,” Mr. Walter said.
The Cabana is currently in storage, according to Mr. DiCandia, who said the longer it is not in the water running cruises, the more money the company stands to lose. He’s hoping to have the boat docked in Riverhead as quickly as possible, he said.
BID president Ray Pickersgill said he spoke to downtown businesses about the cruise ship and “all they want is for you to pay your fair share.”
The town has not yet determined how much the docking fees should be.
The arrangement with The Cabana group would be in the form of a license agreement, and would not be subject to a public hearing, officials said.