The Vintage Group development team is back — with new investors and a bulked-up $200 million project that now includes shops and residences on the south side of East Main Street in downtown Riverhead, as well as a multiplex movie theater, apartments, stores and a parking garage on Railroad Avenue.
And at least three Town Board members — Jodi Giglio, Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy — say they support the plan.
“This is a great opportunity for this town to move forward,” said John Burke, Vintage Group president. “This is a wonderful opportunity that has never presented itself before. We are talking about an entire refurbishment and revitalization of the entire town.”
But the project must clear a lot of hurdles. Vintage Group had previously proposed a multiplex, stores, apartments and a parking garage on Railroad Avenue, and had received a qualified and eligible sponsor designation from the previous Town Board. That designation, which is required in order to buy town land in an urban renewal area, expired in 2010 and was not renewed by the current board.
Mr. Burke’s old and new projects both call for acquisition of the recently built town parking lot on Railroad Avenue, which was designed to provide parking for the courts.
His previous plan called for all funding to be provided by one investor, developer George Heinlein’s Heinlein Capital Ventures. Investors for the new project include the ALF-CIO Housing Investment Trust, which has net assets of $4 billion and has invested in 100,000 units of housing over its 46 years, according to its chief investment officer, Stephanie Wiggins, who appeared at a press conference held by Vintage Group Tuesday at Digger’s restaurant to unveil the new plans.
“We are a fixed income mutual fund that specializes in construction-related, mortgage-backed securities, which means that we work with mortgage bankers who underwrite and service projects and we buy the securities from them. We are the end-loan investor,” Ms. Wiggins said.
The trust has a goal of creating 15,000 jobs by investing in development projects, she said, adding that Vintage Group’s project is expected to generate 750 jobs.
Vintage Group’s new proposal would call for development of a multiplex on the site of the town’s parking lot west of Cedar Street on Railroad Avenue. Above the multiplex would be 150 units of housing, according to Richard Wiedersum, the project architect. Vintage Group would have to acquire that property from the town.
The land east of Cedar Street, which currently has stores on it, also would have to be acquired, as Vintage Group plans to build a 750-car parking garage there with stores and offices. Cedar Street would become a pedestrian mall with an overhead walkway connecting the two structures, Mr. Wiedersum added.
The Railroad Avenue project is called Vintage Square.
The other project, called Vintage Village on the Peconic, would be located in downtown Riverhead, on the south side of Main Street, facing the Suffolk Theatre. It calls for 250 housing units as well as a retail component and would also involve properties that Vintage Group would need to acquire.
A group called Apollo Real Estate Advisors attempted to purchase the same buildings along the south side of Main Street for a similar project several years ago but was unable to.
Meanwhile, Vintage Group will have competition in trying to bring a multiplex to town, as developer Ron Parr is hoping to attract a movie company to the former Woolworth building. Mr. Walter has been saying for months that Mr. Parr would buy the building from Apollo if he finds an interested theater operator.
Mr. Walter, who said he was not aware of Tuesday’s press, said he wasn’t against the Vintage plans.
“I don’t know what the whole thing is all about,” he said. “Here’s my thought, and here’s what I told Burke … When you own property, I’ll be your best friend.
And if Mr. Burke goes into contract on some of these properties, or owns properties, I’m going to be very much in favor of pushing his project along.”
Mr. Walter said he’s been working with Mr. Parr because he had already put money, to the tune of $10 million, into downtown by building the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts School on East Main Street.
Mr. Dunleavy, Mr. Wooten and Ms. Giglio all attended the press conference at Digger’s.
Mr. Dunleavy said a project like Vintage Square is needed to bring foot traffic to downtown and Railroad Avenue. He said senior citizens keep asking him where the movie theater is, because the nearest large theater is in Holtsville.
“They have to travel 40 miles to Holtsville,” he said, “and by the time they get back, it’s 10:30 or 11 p.m. and they don’t want to do that.”
Mr. Wooten said the housing and movie theater plan Vintage Group is proposing has been done successfully elsewhere.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s been done all over,” he said.
“This is going to be a draw for Riverhead,” Ms. Giglio said. “People are going to want to come here and not just stay for the day and go home.”
Also present at the press conference was Joshua Hausfeld of Love Funding, a Federal Housing Administration lender that he said frequently works with the federal Housing and Urban Development Administration, which he believes could help the Vintage Square project.
“We got interested in this particular transaction because it has all the hot-button topics that HUD likes to see to approve a deal: work force housing, affordable housing, revitalization, job creation and mass transit-oriented development,” Mr. Hausfeld said.
Mr. Burke said a percentage of the housing units would be set aside for work force or affordable housing.
He said he’s been working with Ms. Wiggins and Mr. Hausfeld for more than a year, and has spoken with Town Board members as well during that time, but asked them not to speak publicly about his plans.
He said he decided to go public at this time because “now we’ve got everything in place.”