Riverhead gets $700K for agritourism center at firehouse building

New York State has awarded Riverhead Town $700,000 for an agricultural tourism center and permanent farmers market location at the vacant Second Street firehouse, it was announced Thursday.

The money is coming in the form of two New York Regional Economic Development Council awards meant to help fund the renovation of the historic structure, and establish the “Town of Riverhead County Agritourism Visitors Center,” which would also serve as the location of the ever-popular farmers market.

But the decision of whether to follow through with that vision may not be up to the town. The firehouse is currently being sold to Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi for $500,000 and the closing is expected in January, said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter.

Mr. Walter said the town applied for the grant in August, an effort that was spurred by August Ruckdeschel, an economic development specialist with Suffolk County, and Riverhead community development director Chris Kempner.

“The firehouse was a wonderful location for it,” Mr. Walter said after receiving notice of the award. “We have been moving the farmers market from place to place, and wanted to have a permanent home for it, as the other buildings are still for sale.”

“It is great for us and it is great for Mr. Castaldi,” he said. “This will give him a leg up and hopefully be the impetus for a shining star for Second Street, the way the theater is for East Main Street.”

Mr. Castaldi told the News-Review that he believes it would be a great place for an information center, noting “everything that’s going on with the firehouse is up in the air until we actually go to closing.”

“I am very interested in the idea of the center,” he said. “It is a great possibility. It has got to be looked into a little more and it all has to be planned out.”

In July, Mr. Costaldi said that while the market has had success on Saturdays, it is unclear whether that success would continue if expanded to several days a week. In September, he said a brewery is one possible idea for the firehouse.

Since November, the farmers market has been open Saturday and Sunday.

Calling Riverhead the gateway to Long Island’s twin forks, Mr. Castaldi said he envisions the center as a starting point for tourists, where people could stop for maps and information before moving on to the wineries and growing lot of breweries.

“They can take off from here and maybe come back and have dinner or stay at one of the hotels,” he said. “It would really put the spotlight on Riverhead.”

Mr. Castaldi said a dollar amount has not yet been placed on the renovation, as a plan has yet to be finalized.

Mr. Walter said the idea is “great for Riverhead and it will help to clean up an area of Second Street that we hadn’t really focused on.

“We have tremendous police presence down there, and having a number of people on Second Street is only going to help,” he said, adding that the market presently brings about 1,000 people to its current location downtown every weekend.

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