Regal Movie Theaters exec set to scout out downtown Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter hopes a Regal Movie Theaters scout will think the old Woolworth building property is suitable for a new theater.

The quest for a downtown Riverhead movie theater is now focused on one company, Regal Entertainment Group, according to Supervisor Sean Walter, who said he’s still trying to convince the company to locate in town.

Regal is the largest movie theater chain in the nation, with 537 theaters in 37 states. Mr. Walter said he has a meeting scheduled for July 25 with the Regal executive in charge of siting new theaters.

“This is the guy we have to impress,” he said in an interview. He wouldn’t identify the executive because he didn’t want reporters calling him.

At one time, Clearview Cinemas, which is owned by Cablevision and operates mostly in New York and New Jersey, had been discussing a possible move to Riverhead, but Mr. Walter said at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting that Regal is the only company left in the picture.

“Clearview is out of the picture for the moment,” he said after last week’s meeting.

The plan is to attract a movie theater to downtown’s former Woolworth building, still owned by Apollo Real Estate Advisors. Apollo — a real estate investment group that saw its 2005 vision to remake downtown collapse — was unable to attract a theater company to that location after buying the property for $4 million.

The Apollo group, in turn, is talking with developer Ron Parr, who Mr. Walter has said would buy the building — so long as a movie theater company is on board.

Mr. Walter said the town has done everything Regal has asked it to do — other than allow a theater on Route 58.

“They want to be on Route 58, but it’s not allowed,” the supervisor said. The town changed the zoning several years ago to permit movie theaters only in the downtown area, and Mr. Walter has said he supports that zoning.

Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten said he supports a downtown theater but is concerned about whether there would be enough parking for a multiplex at the former Woolworth building.

“I just think the Railroad Avenue site is much better when it comes to parking issues,” Mr. Wooten said.

Eleven years ago, developer John Burke proposed construction of a multiplex, apartments and a parking garage on Railroad Avenue. That proposal required the applicant to have a “qualified and eligible sponsor” designation from the town because the plan involved buying some town land.

The Town Board allowed the qualified and eligible designation to lapse last year and Mr. Walter said he doesn’t believe that application is still active.

But Mr. Burke says he is still pursuing the project.

“It’s a green light,” he told a reporter Tuesday. “It’s going forward but I hesitate to speak publicly about it because in the past, when I’ve spoken to the town, things have been leaked.”

Mr. Burke said an announcement will be made at the appropriate time.

“Good news is ahead for the people of Riverhead,” he said.

Town officials have been trying to attract a multiplex to Riverhead for years, with no success.

A movie theater was proposed for Tanger Outlets in 2001, and received full Town Board approval, but Tanger officials said at the time they couldn’t get a movie theater company to come here. The proposed theater space was later occupied by Pottery Barn.

Another multiplex proposal, for the former Hazeltine property on Route 58, received full Town Board approval in 2003, but no theater was ever built there either. A Costco is currently proposed for that location.

Regal actually proposed a multiplex in the original plans for the Riverhead Centre complex on Route 58. Those plans were approved in 1997, but the approval was later overturned in court. By the time the revised Riverhead Centre application was approved five years later, a movie theater was no longer part of the plan.

“I’m going to do everything I can to bring a movie theater to downtown,” Mr. Walter said.

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