Patchogue officials share downtown success story with Riverhead residents

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | East Main Street in downtown Riverhead

It wasn’t too long ago that Main Street in Patchogue wasn’t much different than Main Street in Riverhead.

Both downtowns were feeling the blow of losing a big anchor store in Swezey’s, which closed its Riverhead location in late 2003 and soon after did the same in Patchogue.

Both communities watched as neighboring commercial districts — Route 58 in Riverhead and Sunrise Highway in Patchogue — continued to expand and become the main destination for shoppers.

But a few years ago things began to look up for downtown Patchogue, which has since become Suffolk County’s major downtown revitalization success story.

A pair of Patchogue Village officials came to Riverhead Wednesday to share their story with members of the iloveriverhead community group, in hopes that their message can help generate some positive momentum for their neighbors to the northeast.

About 30 Riverhead residents attended the group’s monthly meeting at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall on Peconic Avenue for a Q & A discussion with Patchogue Village trustees Jack Krieger and Lori Devlin.

One critical difference in the two communities is Patchogue’s status as an incorporated village, Mr. Krieger and Ms. Devlin said. Patchogue Village is able to expedite development projects because it has its own planning and zoning boards and doesn’t require the Town of Brookhaven’s approval, said Mr. Krieger, who also works as Brookhaven’s communications director.

Could downtown Riverhead benefit from becoming an incorporated village? Some in attendance Wednesday night questioned how realistic a possibility that could be, and others said it would only increase taxes in the town.

But Mr. Kreiger said Riverhead residents shouldn’t rule it out, adding that Mastic Beach residents recently voted to form an incorporated village.

“It’s possible,” Mr. Krieger said. “You pay a little more in taxes, but it’s a trade off.”

Ms. Devlin said another component of the Patchogue success story is a community committee that works to secure grants to help fund downtown revitalization projects once they become available.

And not all the projects helping to revitalize Patchogue are commercial based. The trustees also attributed their downtown success to some recent housing plans.

For example, Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri wanted the area’s two “dilapidated hotels that housed sex offenders” demolished and redeveloped, but one owner wasn’t interested in selling, Mr. Krieger said.

“We had to promise the developer more density … because he needed to be able to make a profit,” Ms. Devlin said, adding that the developer of the 60-unit Bay Village Condominium project spent $7 million for both hotel properties. “But what we did for the community was we demanded a high standard of architecture.”

Another element that has created a positive atmosphere in downtown Patchogue is the Artspace Project, which is a nonprofit group based in Minnesota that seeks to provide affordable housing and work space for artists.

Six years ago, Artspace representatives had visited Riverhead, but ultimately made a deal with Patchogue Village in 2007.

Nancy Swett, founder of iloveriverhead, said she found all of Mr. Krieger and Ms. Devlin’s ideas intriguing and was especially interested in having an Artspace Project created in Riverhead.

“Bringing more artists to live and work downtown, I think, is very compelling,” Ms. Swett said. “It’s of interest because it has been proven to help revitalize downtowns.”

[email protected]