Bowling alley seeks tax breaks; school board prez ‘Tebows’ for district

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Developer Jeffrey Rimland at an IDA hearing Wednesday.

This time, the school board president was the one “Tebowing.”

Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse kneeled and brought her head to her fist like religious NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and said she was “going to pray for the school district” during a public hearing on whether or not to give a proposed Riverhead bowling alley tax breaks and other incentives Wednesday.

She assumed that position in silence for about ten seconds.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said the district is “in dire straights” because of the state’s two-percent tax cap and will have to cut about $3.1 from its budget next year. She opposed giving any tax breaks to the bowling alley, known as Bowl 58, a stand school officials have taken at several hearings before the Industrial Development Agency in the past two years.

The public prayer was in reference to an incident last month in which two Riverhead High School students were suspended for “Tebowing” in the hallways of the school, a story that drew nationwide attention.

“As you know, our school made national and international news with a Tebowing incident,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse told the IDA. “So unlike the kids at school who said they thought this was something that was going to be fun, I am going to pray for the school district.”

TIM GANNON PHOTO | The school board president kneeling before the IDA board.

Bowl 58 is the never-opened bowling center at the former Chevy dealership site on Route 25 in Riverhead. It was constructed by its prior owners, Robert Bunt and Joe Albanese, but never completed, and was later foreclosed on by the Bank of Smithtown.

Now Main Road Holdings, a group headed by developer Jeffrey Rimland, has bought the mortgage from Bank of Smithtown, and Mr. Rimland says he intends to take ownership of the property and complete the bowling center.

He is seeking a partial property tax abatement on the improvements, a mortgage tax abatement and sales tax abatements on the cost of building materials.

Under its prior owners, Bowl 58 applied for and was granted property tax abatements, but failed to file the necessary paperwork with the town assessors and as a result, never received the benefit.

Mr. Rimland, whose family has owned businesses in Riverhead since 1956 and who still owns a building downtown, said IDA benefits are needed because “banks will not lend unless you ask for all the help available to minimize their risk.”

He said the building, proposed as a 28-lane bowling center with a restaurant, is not finished inside, and that the electronic scoring and computer systems have been removed and need to be replaced. The kitchen and electrical fixtures were also never installed.

“The building has basically been shelved and has been an eyesore for the past two years,” he said. “I would like to finish construction and begin operating the bowling center as it was intended originally.”

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said the estimated $257,000 in taxes that would be abated over a 10-year period would be pushed onto the taxpayers instead.

Resident Joan Zaneski of Aquebogue also opposed the tax breaks, saying she didn’t think it was fair that the builders went into debt and expect the taxpayers to assist them “to the tune of $250,000” because the banks would not.

But Councilman Jim Wooten, who was at the meeting, said he supported the tax breaks.

“The concern that I hear all too often is that there is nothing for our kids to do,” he said. “I think this would be a real plus for Riverhead.”

No decision on whether or not to approve the tax breaks was made Wednesday.

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