Editorial: One crucial component to a real downtown resurgence

08/03/2011 11:56 AM |

From New London, Conn., to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Suffolk County’s own Bay Shore and Patchogue Village, it’s clear most neighborhood revitalization success stories require a lively nightlife. And young people like to stay out late. Or, rather, early.

With the new Hyatt hotel opening last month and a string of new or expanded restaurants up and running, it would appear that downtown Riverhead is just one large bar/small concert hall away from becoming a really attractive place for the East End’s young people. Twenty- and thirtysomethings here have grown accustomed to heading to the South Fork to eat out or go dancing with friends.

But those same people need to feel safe.

Whether it’s real or imagined, as of now many do not feel safe keeping late hours in downtown Riverhead. Something big needs to be done about it.

In many medium-sized cities, where the bar scene is concentrated in one or a few blocks, the streets are usually teeming with two types of vehicles during the late night and early morning hours: taxi cabs and police cars. Uniformed officers even patrol inside some of the rowdier bars on the lookout for drugs, fights or underage drinking.

Downtown Riverhead hasn’t reached the point of being a full-blown party district, and maybe it never will, but if revitalization is the true reality, the town should start planning accordingly for a livelier night life. The Riverhead Police Department will have to make adjustments.

A start would be to get an officer to wait outside each of the bars and restaurants come closing time. Town officials should be working with and encouraging businesses to stay open late, but security is paramount. So it’s not too big a drain on police resources, perhaps the business owners can work with police to stagger their closing times. Shifting some Community Oriented Police Enforcement officers to the bars is another idea worth considering.

No matter how it happens, Riverhead’s police chief and supervisor must take this issue seriously and craft a plan to redirect some more resources downtown, so some of these establishments can stay open later. This is a crucial step — and one that could come relatively cheaply —  in revitalization efforts that have cost tens of millions in public and private money over several years.

No truly vibrant downtown goes dark at midnight.