Stores, apartments eyed for East Main Street in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO A private developer wants to purchase vacant East Main Street buildings, like the one pictures above, and turn them into apartments and retail space.

A private developer is seeking to purchase a block of vacant buildings along downtown Riverhead’s East Main Street with the goal of demolishing them and building retail stores and apartments, Supervisor Sean Walter told the News-Review this week.

Mr. Walter did not name the developer, and that plan has not been formally proposed, but the supervisor said it has been in the discussion stages for about a year.

“It has not come to fruition yet,” he said.

The supervisor said talks about a mixed-use development project began not long after a “downtown summit” he held in early 2010, at which developers and business people were invited to exchange ideas and hear pitches from government officials.

Mr. Walter organized the summit hoping to jump-start development in the long-struggling downtown area.

“The developer seeks to acquire a block of property on the south side of Main Street,” Mr. Walter said, adding that the exact buildings or number of apartments or exact buildings have yet to be determined.

The proposal is similar in nature to one proposed in 2006 by Apollo Real Estate Advisors in that it involves building stores and apartments on properties between the former West Marine building and the former Dinosaur Museum building, although Mr. Walter said the current plan is not as large in scope as Apollo’s.

Apollo was unable to strike a deal with the owners of any of the properties on this section of Main Street and eventually dropped its proposal.

Mr. Walter said the new developer is dealing with many of the same property owners.

“And therein lies the rub,” he said. “It seems that no matter where people own property, every property owner thinks they have gold.”

The downtown zoning that resulted from the town’s 2003 master plan update permits up to 500 residential units on the upper floors of buildings in what’s known as the Downtown Center-1 zone, and allows buildings in that zone to be up to five stories high. Retail and restaurants are permitted on the ground floors.

The DC-1 district extends roughly from Ostrander Avenue to Griffing Avenue along Main Street.

Mr. Walter said he’s also working to bring a multiplex to East Main Street, across the street from the possible apartments and retails buildings. Developer Ron Parr is seeking to buy the former Woolworth building from Apollo, and demolish it to build the theaters, the supervisor said.

The Woolworth building was the one downtown property the Apollo group — which at one point was designated as the downtown’s “master developer,” and thus had preference in obtaining any condemned properties — was able to acquire. The NYC-based Apollo group also sought to build a multiplex there.

Mr. Walter said two movie theater companies are being considered. One is Regal Entertainment Group, which is the largest movie theater chain in the U.S., with 537 theaters in 37 states, and owns the United Artists and Regal Cinemas brand. The other is Clearview Cinemas, which is owned by Cablevision and operates 47 theaters, mostly in New York and New Jersey.

Mr. Walter said Mr. Parr is negotiating with the two companies.

Mr. Parr has declined to comment publicly on the issue until it is settled.

The supervisor also had declined to discuss specifics of the deal publicly until recently. “My [town] council members let the cat out of the bag,” he said.

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