WaterFire creators eye Riverhead for latest installation

WaterFire in Providence, R.I.. Credit: Oko Zoko
WaterFire in Providence, R.I.. Credit: Oko Zoko

Light up the Peconic!

A plan to bring “WaterFire” to downtown Riverhead could be in the works. WaterFire Riverhead, as it’s being billed, is a based on similar WaterFire displays around the world — the nearest being in Providence, R.I. — that feature bonfires on waterways while other artistic displays and performances take place around them.

Members of the Riverhead Business Improvement District’s Management Association first learned about the regularly occurring WaterFire display in Providence about two years ago, at the suggestion of the group’s vice president, Steve Shaugher.

They then sought to do something similar in the Peconic River behind Main Street.

They even had a pilot demonstration at the annual Holiday Bonfire two years ago, spoke with leaders in town hall about it last December, and at the East End Arts Council’s JumpstART project in August, said Mr. Shaugher, who’s the general manager of the Hyatt Place East End on East Main Street.

Originally, the BID members were calling their plan RiverFire.

In the meantime, the creator of the nonprofit WaterFire exhibit, artist Barnaby Evans, was reading news accounts of what Riverhead was trying to do, right around the time his strategic advisor, Lisa Lowenstein, moved from Manhattan to Riverhead for a few months.

They liked what they saw.

Now, the creator of WaterFire is interested in helping Riverhead create its own WaterFire, Ms. Lowenstein said.

And the idea is catching, well, fire pretty quick.

A Facebook page launched Wednesday and titled  “WaterFire Riverhead: Building Renewal Together,” already had close to 180 “likes” just four hours into its existence, and a group of area residents will be making the trip to Providence on Nov. 8 to see the WaterFire display firsthand in that city, which had the first ever WaterFire display in 1994.

Riverhead Community Development Director Chris Kempner and East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder also recently visited WaterFire Providence, and the BID members have met with Mr. Evans and Ms. Lowenstein recently, Mr. Shaugher said.

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“Last month, we had a BID meeting and we were all in support of going ahead with WaterFire, and getting more information and having the BID backing them up,” Mr. Shaugher said. “We support it 110 percent.

He said BID members quickly realized that rather than try to do it themselves, they should let the WaterFire creators guide them.

“They’ve been doing it for 20 years,” Mr. Shaugher said of WaterFire. “They do a phenomenal job with it. They get different artists to come in, they get people doing acrobatics with fires, they do boat rides, they do gondolas up in Providence. They know what works and what doesn’t, so rather than us doing it it, if they were able to come in and help us, this could be a big pull for Riverhead.”

“Basically, we’re just there to talk about what the next steps might be,” said Ms. Lowenstein, who will be on hand Thursday morning to meet with Town Board members to discuss the project. (Follow along live at at 10 a.m.)PeconicRiverBoardwalk_BE_R.jpg

“We’ve looked at what this town has and what it’s trying to be and what it’s resources are, both in terms of the infrastructure and in terms of the vibrancy of the population there that desires to take advantage of the fact that they are in a great geographic area,” Ms. Lowenstein said. “The Peconic River itself is uniquely appropriate for a waterfront installation and we are just here to help them see that we can serve as catalysts.

“There are plenty of opportunities for financing if one is working with Barnaby Evans because of his reputation and because of his credibility and what he’s done in other places,” she added.

Among the other locations where WaterFire has been installed at are Columbus, Ohio; Rome, Italy; Singapore, Sharon, Pa..; Kansas City, Kan., and Providence, among others.

“Hundreds of cities have written to Barnaby asking if WaterFire can be brought to their town,” Ms. Lowenstein said. Usually, just looking at the geographic of a city on Google Earth can give a good idea if WaterFire would work in that area, she said.

With Riverhead, it already has things like the river, the riverwalk and the recently renovated park in Grangebel Park, that make it attractive to something like WaterFire, she said.

It also has people who have shown a great interest in bringing WaterFire downtown, she said.

“We believe that WaterFire in Riverhead can help catalyze and advance the renewal we see on Main Street and the waterfront,” the new Facebook site says. “We further feel that there is sufficient interest and excellent potential to find funding to make this possible.”

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Photo credit: The Peconic River boardwalk. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)