Just months after opening the doors on the new Hyatt East End hotel and a renamed Long Island Aquarium in downtown Riverhead, the complex’s co-owner, Jim Bissett III, was found dead Wednesday evening in a parked car in Mattituck, officials said.
“It is not being investigated as a suspicious death,” said Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley.
His body was found about 6 p.m. in the car, which was parked at Veteran’s Park off of Peconic Bay Boulevard.
Police spotted the car while on routine patrol, officials said.
“He was a wonderful man,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who first met Mr. Bissett in 2004. “You can’t really say much more than that at this point. And I’m so sorry to hear about this. My prayers are with his family.”
Mr. Bissett, 48, lived on a sprawling estate in Mattituck, complete with horse stables and indoor and outdoor pools. He had put the house on the market last year for about $8 million.
“No words can adequately express our sadness at Mr. Bissett’s death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him,” read a statement released Thursday by hotel and aquarium staff in Riverhead. “We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.”
Mr. Bissett, whose parents founded Bissett Nurseries in Holtsville in 1964, teamed up with Joe Petrocelli of Petrocelli Construction of Ronkonkoma to build what came to be known as Atlantis Marine World on East Main Street.
Work began in 1999 on the aquarium and it opened the next year. It featured a 120,000-gallon main tank and several side exhibitions that played to the theme of the lost city of Atlantis.
“It’s not a science center,” Mr. Bissett explained in a News-Review profile of the business in January. “It has a theatrical theme” that helps make it fun for kids and families.
The Hyatt hotel opened in July, the same time the now-expanded aquarium was renamed the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center.
“He’s just a wonderful man; truly an inspirational man,” said Mr. Walter. “It’s just a terrible time.”
See the Dec. 22 News-Review newspaper or check back at RiverheadNewsReview.com for additional information.