Dreams of movies & groceries downtown

Downtown Riverhead looking west. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Downtown Riverhead looking west. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Trader Joe’s? Multiplex movie theater? They’ve been bandied about before for downtown Riverhead. And it looks like planners are still trying to get them to come.

Planning firm Nelson, Pope and Voorhis — conducting a Brownfields Opportunity Area study for the town — presented an update on its plans so far last week in town hall, informing the Town Board of a “Dare to Dream” concept it’s giving a shot in the hopes that one of the popular ideas might finally stick.

The proposals — the type of projects residents have repeatedly called for — were done without talking to the property owners whose properties are included in the “dream” proposals and were strictly meant as a means of bringing up the idea, said Catherine Eiseman of NPV.

“It’s kind of a dream scenario,” she said. “It might stimulate some ideas.”

Some of these ideas would require an assemblage of smaller properties into one larger parcel, she said.

One idea was to create a “river-oriented recreational development” on land on the south side of West Main Street, across from Snowflake and east of Bouy One. Ms. Eiseman says Bouy Oone “would be the anchor” and the idea would be for a bed and breakfast-type business.

There’s an auto repair shop and two houses in that area now.

A walking trail along the river, connecting to an existing boat launch in the area, also is envisioned.

Another idea she floated called for assembling properties across from Spicy’s on West Main Street in hopes of bringing a grocery store. Maryhaven Center of Hope and an auto glass business are among the businesses on this spot now.

The study envisions about a 14,000 square foot building with a “Trader Joe’s-type” store and a line of smaller retail stores fronting West Main Street. In addition, NPV also envisions a two-level parking garage behind the stores.

Supervisor Sean Walter has said that Trader Joe’s has rejected his attempts to get them to come to Riverhead in the past.

Also discussed was the idea of attracting a multiplex movie theater, something town officials have been trying to do for years without success.

“It’s come up over and over again in our public outreach,” Ms. Eiseman said.

She suggested that a multiplex might be built outside of the downtown area as part of a visitor’s center that would act as a “new entrance to downtown.”

In addition, she said, NPV is exploring the idea of finding publicly-owned properties that could support a combined multiplex and indoor parking structure. No specific location for a multiplex was suggested.

The town’z zoning currently doesn’t allow movie theaters anywhere but downtown. Mr. Walter, who tried unsuccessfully to bring Regal Cinemas to the former Woolworth building a couple of years ago, said recently that Regal also rejected his idea of building a multiplex at the site of old Walmart building on Route 58, which would have needed a zone change anyway.

Mr. Walter has said he’s called every movie theater company he can find in hopes of bringing one to Riverhead.

One area where a multiplex was proposed, but not built, was on Railroad Avenue, which coincidentally was another area the BOA study singled out in its “Dare to Dream” section.

Ms. Eiseman said the area across the railroad station could be redeveloped as mixed-use building with apartments on the upper floor and a parking garage.

A group led by John Burke of Riverhead has proposed almost that exact project, with apartments, a parking garage and a multiplex. However, they will need to purchase all of the Railroad Street properties across from the railroad tracks, as well as a town’s parking lot, to do so.

There will a public “open house” presentation on the progress of the BOA study on Tuesday, May 20, from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at the Suffolk Community College Culinary Arts school on East Main Street.

A similar presentation was held in March.