Talk stirs up again over a Riverhead movie theater

11/14/2014 8:00 AM |
Riverhead, Walmart, Newtown, Sandy Hook, Route 58, Riverhead

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the owner of the former Walmart building on Route 58 may be interested in bringing in a movie theater. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s comment at the end of Thursday’s Town Board work session meeting almost flew under the public’s radar.

Someone might be interested in bringing a movie theater to Riverhead, she mentioned.

The theater — long sought-after by town supervisors, council people and residents alike — would be built in the old Walmart building on Route 58 near Ostrander Avenue, Ms. Giglio said.

But other Town Board members said they hadn’t heard anything about it, and were surprised by Ms. Giglio’s remarks.

“[It was] totally news to me,” said Town Councilman George Gabrielsen. “She never shared that with the board.”

Ms. Giglio said someone is exploring putting a movie theater in at that location but she hasn’t been able to get through to the company.

Riverhead PGC, LLC is the owner of the former Walmart building. A secretary for the company told the News-Review no one was immediately available to comment on the councilwoman’s statement.

Ms. Giglio said movie theaters along Route 58 needed to either be built near the end of the Long Island Expressway or by the former Walmart building, since those lots had the necessary sewage infrastructure.

But at the same time, under current town code, a movie theater would only be allowed downtown. In order to build a theater on Route 58, the board would have to vote to change the zoning code.

A movie theater has long been a white whale for Riverhead. In 2004, the Town Board eliminated movie theaters as a permitted use on Route 58 in order to lure a theater to downtown, but those efforts never succeeded.

Most recently in 2011, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter tried to lure Regal Cinemas to the former Woolworth building on East Main Street before negotiations fell apart the next year. The building is now serving as commercial space for a gym and bagel store, with apartments being built on the second floor.

Mr. Walter admitted last August that he wasn’t optimistic a movie theater would come to downtown Riverhead. He couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday about Ms. Giglio’s remark.

On Thursday, Mr. Gabrielsen said that movie companies are not expanding anymore.

“The problem with movie theaters is that attendance across the nation is down,” he said. “It’s not the biggest thing anymore.”

Still, Mr. Gabrielsen said he would support a zoning change to allow a movie theater outside of downtown. So too would Ms. Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy.

But, Mr. Dunleavy was skeptical such a rumor was true, saying that Ms. Giglio should have informed the board of such an interest before going public with it.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “If it was important, I’d have heard about it.”

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Correction: The original version of this story stated that Riverhead PGC, LLC. was discussing putting in the movie theater. The company is the building’s owner, not its leasee, and would not be the one to add the potential theater. The interested company is a third-party.