Could $700K help bring ‘ag center’ to downtown Riverhead?

12/19/2014 8:00 AM |
The Second Street firehouse was obtained by Riverhead Town in 2011 in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

The Second Street firehouse was obtained by Riverhead Town in 2011 in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

The sale of the Second Street firehouse has been in the headlines several times in the last couple of years.

Initially, it was expected that Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi would purchase the building for $375,000. Then, after prolonged negotiations, the Town Board upped the price to $500,000 and unanimously loosened restrictions to allow additional uses for the property — prompting debate over whether or not other bidders should get a second bite at the apple.

A theater featuring electronic dinosaurs had been proposed for the firehouse. Rumors that a microbrewery would open in the space were confirmed by Mr. Castaldi himself. And just last week, Riverhead Town was awarded $700,000 in state funding to establish and publicize an agritourism center in the historic brick building, which would also serve as a home for the ever-popular Riverhead Farmers Market.

Mr. Castaldi said he believes the Second Street building would be a great place for the center, despite noting that “everything that’s going on with the firehouse is up in the air until we actually go to closing.” That closing, according to Supervisor Sean Walter, is expected to occur in January.

As of now, however, it remains unclear if the agritourism center will take shape there.

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

Riverhead community development director Chris Kempner explained that the funding, issued through the New York State Regional Economic Development Council, comprises a $500,000 grant to be used toward the restoration of the firehouse and a separate $200,000 grant to develop a marketing strategy for the center and create tourism information for visitors.

The grant project description said the center is intended to “showcase tourism and agriculture, as well as provide educational classes and tours, and likely become home to a successful farmer’s market that will draw visitors to Riverhead’s downtown shopping district.”

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Ms. Kempner said she received a call last spring from August Ruckdeschel, an agricultural economic development specialist with Suffolk County, and began working on finding a location for the center. The two considered the former site of 84 Lumber — which isn’t currently for sale — as well as the municipally owned East Lawn building on East Main Street, which did not offer enough parking.

The town put proposals for both the historic firehouse and the East Lawn building before the Long Island Economic Development Council board, Ms. Kempner said. That board advised town officials to pick one location if they wanted to move forward with the grant application.

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

“It is great for us and it is great for Mr. Castaldi,” he continued. “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.”