2011 Top Story No. 5: The changing face of downtown Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Suffolk Theatre's new digital marquee.

The News-Review will be counting down its top 10 biggest stories of the year. Coming in at number 5 is the changing face of downtown.

Does it seem like downtown Riverhead is one of the top 10 stories every year?

2011 was no exception, as the changing face of downtown Riverhead continued to be one of the area’s big stories, with plenty of new arrivals and new proposals.

For much of 2011, the 800-pound gorilla in the room was a possible downtown movie theater.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter has said that one of his goals is to bring a first-run motion picture theater to downtown, and one proposal that’s been floating around all year, although nothing formal has emerged, involves the former Woolworth building.

Back when Phil Cardinale was supervisor, Apollo Real Estate Advisors purchased the Woolworth site in order to build a multiplex. But Apollo’s plan never came to fruition, and now developer Ron Parr is trying to buy the building from them — so long as he can get a movie theater company to sign on first, Mr. Walter has said.

Regal Cinemas, the biggest movie theater chain in the country, seems to be the most interested. Company officials visited Riverhead this fall and took a walking tour of downtown with Mr. Walter and other officials. They even invited Mr. Walter to attend the grand opening of a new Regal multiplex in the upstate town of Clifton Park.

“People have been talking about a movie theater for 20 years here, so me working on it for 22 months isn’t terrible,” Mr. Walter said.

But in November, Apollo raised some eyebrows by renting out space in the Woolworth building to a barbershop.

And other developers also are talking multiplex, including Vintage Square, which unveiled a new source of funding for its planned multiplex/mixed use development on Railroad Avenue, and Riverhead Enterprises, which owns a number of buildings, including some empty ones, on the south side of downtown Main Street.

Movie theater talk aside, the long-planned Hyatt Place hotel next to Atlantis Marine World opened in July, and Atlantis changed its name to the Long Island Aquarium. Also, a new restaurant called The Riverhead Project, run by the former owner of the Frisky Oyster in Greenport, opened in a vacant former bank in downtown Riverhead.

The controversial Casa Rica restaurant, which had been the scene of a number of violent incidents in recent years, closed its doors in late 2010 and was replaced in 2011 by Cody’s BBQ and Grill, a bustling sports bar and restaurant.

Also, Summer Wind Square, a proposed 52-unit workforce housing apartment complex on Peconic Avenue, with stores and a restaurant on the ground floor, finally broke ground after having been proposed three years ago. It is expected to open in 2012.

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