Editorial: Some reasons to be thankful in downtown

Whether or not Supervisor Sean Walter realizes his dream of attracting a cinema to downtown, one thing is certain: More stores and apartments are coming to Main Street. And that means more foot traffic to help sustain the other stores and restaurants already there.

Considering the down economy, we are thankful for that.

Most everyone on the East End is rooting for downtown Riverhead to make that long-anticipated turnaround. There are now two buildings that could likely come alive with activity in the coming year — and one isn’t even built yet.

Apollo Real Estate Advisors, which owns the former Woolworth building on East Main Street, is now renting out space there. The first tenant is a barbershop that opened last Tuesday, and its owner says he’s heard another store will also open there.

The possible bad news — depending on your perspective — is that this is the same property Mr. Walter envisions as the home of a Regal Cinema multiplex. The fact that Apollo is actively seeking tenants there and offering them long-term leases can’t bode well for whatever deal is in the works. Still, whether it’s a cinema or more stores, activity is a victory for the downtown business district.

Meanwhile, the investors behind Summerwind Square, a workforce apartments and retail project on Peconic Avenue, have started work on their four-story building. Plans call for 52 apartments and 8,000 square feet of retail space, some of which will face the Peconic River. And construction is expected to be done in just 10 months.

Naysayers have criticized Summerwind, saying it will just create more empty downtown storefronts. Fill up the other vacant stores first, they say. But the swath of empty spaces near the Suffolk Theatre exists because the property owners are asking for rents that just aren’t realistic in today’s — or any ­— economy. Those owners have also shown little willingness to improve the buildings to make them more attractive. This is why so many people suspect that the owners of these long-vacant buildings want them that way, for tax purposes or other reasons. What other explanation is there?

Apollo, on the other hand, is apparently motivated to rent its downtown space and is following through. And the retail component of Summerwind Square will be brand-new and just steps away from some 150 apartment-dwellers. Having some of that space front the river and riverfront park could be an added bonus for, say, a restaurant aiming to capitalize on summer boat traffic. It will be a surprise if any of that space is empty come ribbon-cutting time next year.