$125K deal for East Lawn Building falls through for town

The East Lawn building on  East Main Street. (file photo)
The East Lawn building on East Main Street. (Credit: file photo)

A plan for Riverhead Town to sell the historic and dilapidated East Lawn Building for $125,000 has fallen through — but the deal won’t be going all the way back to the drawing board.

After the Town Board agreed to sell the building in March to Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi — which wasn’t the highest bid the town received — Mr. Castaldi recently decided to back out because of limitations imposed on expanding parking to accommodate future tenants.

The building on East Main Street is in need of hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation costs, Mr. Castaldi said, and only has three parking spots currently.

“For the amount of time and money, and to do the work the way I was going to restore it, unfortunately it doesn’t work,” Mr. Castaldi said on Thursday.

Mr. Castaldi said that he had been “very, very interested in it. But once I got the survey of what I thought was the property, it turns out that it is not a very big piece of property.” He said that a survey indicated that parts of the landscape that appear to be part of the plot actually belong to the adjacent property owner.

“So what a small piece of property actually just got a lot smaller with really almost no parking,” he said.

The Chamber of Commerce, the Riverhead Housing Development Corporation and Riverhead Community Awareness Program also occupy the East Lawn building rent free and will have to move by June 30. Supervisor Sean Walter previously said that CAP plans to move to the former Internal Revenue Service office on East Main Street and the Chamber of Commerce is moving up the street to Thirty West Main on June 1.

The Town Board had discussed the issue at its Thursday morning work session, where members of the board were conflicted about where the town should go next. Proceeds from the sale of the East Lawn Building, as well as the Second Street Firehouse — which Mr. Castaldi did purchase — had been put into the 2015 budget. While the town received the $500,000 it expected from the firehouse, the town had budgeted $250,000 to sell the East Lawn Building. It received two bids: one from Mr. Castaldi and another for $130,000. Both bidders saw more work needed on the building than the town anticipated.

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A marketing group called I’m a Ruralpolitan Inc., headed by Isabelle Gonzalez — a member of the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association — and her sister, Mary, originally offered $250,000 for the building. They later dropped their offer to $130,000 and said they would do $200,000 worth of restorations.

A majority of the Town Board agreed on Thursday that it would go back to the Gonzalez sisters to see if they were still interested in purchasing the property. A call to Isabelle Gonzalez was not immediately returned.

Mr. Walter said that rather than selling to the Gonzalez sisters, he would prefer to try selling the building through one of the real estate brokers the town plans on hiring for the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

“The only issue is, what do we want to see there?” he asked. “If we want to see the building restored to its historic grandeur — which I guarantee Mr. Castaldi would have done better — in an expeditious timeframe, I don’t think the second bidder was capable.”

Other board members expressed concern that future bids could come in even lower than the $130,000 offered by I’m a Ruralpolitan, Inc. and said that going back to them would be the fair thing to do.

“Normally, wouldn’t we — on any bid that we do — go to the next bidder and at least inquire if they’re still interested?” asked Councilman Jim Wooten.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that after the town rejected their bid — which was higher than the one the town originally took — they might not even be interested in doing business with the town anymore.

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