Editorial: BID doing its part to make downtown right

Riverhead’s Business Improvement District management association — led by Robert James Salon & Spa owner Ray Pickersgill — has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism on this page for its part in a bitter feud with officials at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, a feud that ultimately led to the demise of the popular Riverhead Blues & Music Festival. But we would be remiss not to point out that the BID, which just five years ago was operating in the red to the tune of $60,000, has bounced back in spectacular fashion. Not only does the group seem to manage its money well, as it’s been in the black since 2008, it would appear that it spends it well, too.

With the help of the weekly Cruise Night gathering of classic car enthusiasts along the riverfront and a packed schedule of outdoor events that runs from May through August, it seems as if downtown — despite the stubborn blocks of empty stores — is alive with people every week.

That wouldn’t be the case without the BID’s management group.

From the hugely popular cardboard boat race, which debuted last year and grew in attendance in 2011, to the Independence Day celebration, to this past weekend’s oldies concert, not much time passes between events. We imagine the more consistent foot traffic to be a huge help to area businesses, especially the delis, pizza parlors, bars and restaurants that are in the best position to capitalize on such gatherings.

The creativity of the events, which have included not only the boat races but an antique show in June and an upcoming Mardi Gras celebration, is also worth noting. Many annual festivals in small towns and villages come to attract the same acts and vendors every year, with organizers using many of the same dusty decorations from the event’s inception. Like a museum that never changes its exhibits, the events start to feel stale. People lose interest. Downtown already has enough problems with people losing interest; strong business leaders can help capitalize on people’s passions about Main Street and keep them coming back.

That’s what the BID appears to have done by giving money to help the River & Roots Community Garden project get off the ground on West Main Street. The garden not only looks good, it’s now exploding with plants and vegetables.

The BID has been doing great things for downtown, and we expect even more in the future. The taxing district has committed some funding to a planned pedestrian walkway and traffic light on Peconic Avenue, which is envisioned to help connect the newly remade Grangebel Park to the riverfront park.

Meanwhile, BID management members have been pushing hard to put a year-round synthetic ice rink in the middle of downtown’s riverfront parking lot.

We have urged the BID to start undertaking capital improvement projects, much like its counterpart has in Patchogue Village. We’re glad to see it happening. As the town helps in finding grant money, Mr. Pickersgill last month said the BID could be expected to commit $100,000 to the project.

An ice rink would help fill activity gap between the summer weekend events, as well as the winter, and would be money well spent.