Revitalizing blighted areas such as those along Riverhead’s Main Street corridor, which officials and community members have been trying to do for years, can be more complicated than just redeveloping properties parcel by parcel.
In fact, according to the state Department of State, comprehensive approaches best serve to generate visions that will lead to more extensive revitalizations, especially in downtown areas.
A $567,000 grant from the Department of State, in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, will help Riverhead Town do just that, state and town officials say.
Riverhead Community Development Director Christine Kempner said the grant award, announced last week, will pay for a marketing and economic development analysis, design a plan to make Main Street more walkable and will retain the services of National Development Council, a nonprofit community development organization.
National Development Council can help small business owners looking to set up shop in Riverhead secure tax credits and loans.
The grant will not finance any capital improvements.
Ms. Kempner explained a sophisticated market analysis of Riverhead’s demographic could also help small businesses obtain loans, as many banks are still skittish about lending in the down economy.
“[Downtown] looks cheap because it’s vacant, but we know it’s really not,” she said.
With the new data, businesses can “go to the bank and justify that they are going to make money,” Ms. Kempner said.
The grant will also go toward designing a plan to revamp pedestrian flow on Main Street and finding ways to attract development that emphasizes and accommodates agricultural and eco-tourism in Riverhead.
“This generous … grant is fantastic, timely news as downtown Riverhead is seeing a wave of new development through both public and private investment,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a statement, “…funding for planning and economic assistance will [emphasize] our unique cultural attractions.”
Ms. Kempner said parts of the town’s Main Street corridor are considered what the state calls “brownfield” sites — contaminated former agricultural and industrial properties such as gas stations that lined the streets over the years.
She said that in the 1950s, before County Road 105 was constructed, the intersection at Peconic Avenue and Main Street was one of the busiest on the East End.
Riverhead’s brownfield sites include duck farms and auto repair operations that once existed along the Peconic River, which parallels West Main Street, according to the state.
The town was eligible for the grant because of the brownfield sites along Route 25 (East and West Main Street) from Kroemer Avenue in the west to Route 58 in the east.
“Among the criteria the area meets is the presence of underutilized or potential brownfield properties, economic distress, and strategic opportunities to stimulate economic development, community revitalization, and the siting of new public amenities,” said Department of State spokesperson Lisa MacSpadden.
“A comprehensive approach to an area minimizes the chances of developers simply focusing on the best sites for revitalization and leaving smaller, less desirable sites untouched,” she added.
Ms. Kempner said the town may be eligible for additional grants to implement some of those plans in the future.
“We could continue with the spot redevelopment,” Ms. Kempner said. “[But] there’s ways to enhance the synergy of what’s happening.”