The Arts

Long-idle art gallery proposal on Main Street is back

(Credit: Tim Gannon)
An art gallery is proposed on this plot between Haiku and Barth’s Drug Store on E. Main Street. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

A proposal from more than 10 years ago to build an art gallery with artist lofts in downtown Riverhead is still alive, according to architect Martin Sendlewski, who represents a pair of renown sculptors proposing the project.

Sculptor Giancarlo Biagi and his business partner Jill Burkee are planning to build a three-story building on the empty lot in between Barth’s Drug Store and Haiku in downtown Riverhead.

They actually first proposed that project in 2001.

The Town Board actually approved the site plan for the project, called the Viva L’Arte Center, in December of 2005, but the applicant never built it.

“They never abandoned the project — it’s just been on the back burner for that long,” Mr. Sendlewski told the Town Board at its work session on Thursday, indicating the applicants been busy with projects in New York and Italy.

“It will never die,” he said. “It’s a dream. They will realize it some day.”

The town’s Community Development Agency director Chris Kempner is helping the applicants to apply for a state “cultural tourism center” grant to offset construction costs.

It was not clear how much the grant is for.

“The owners are all world renowned sculptors,” Ms. Kempner said. “They are the editors and publishers of Sculpture Review magazine.”

The proposed building would officially be considered three stories. They propose to have a art gallery on the ground floor and artist lofts on the upper floors, Mr. Sendlewski said.

“They would like to bring artists from around the world to live there and have residency here,” Mr. Kempner said.

Mr. Biagi and his wife Germana — who is the managing editor of Sculpture Review and is also one of the applicants involved in the project — already live in Northville, where they have a home studio.

They also have studios in Italy and Manhattan, Mr. Sendlewski said.

Mr. Biagi and Ms. Burkee have done work for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., the Human Services Center in Denver, and the U.S. Naval Memorial in Washington, among other places.

“Riverhead I found to be the next big community that could sustain an artist center,” Mr. Biagi said in a 2005 News-Review interview. “It’s still a working-class town and it is growing fast.”

“I sounds like then they have the wherewithal to bring artists downtown,” Supervisor Sean Walter said, when told the applicants publish Sculpture Review magazine, which is the official magazine of the National Sculpture Society in Manhattan.

“I think it’s a great project,” the supervisor said.

“We will be coming back at some point in the near future and restarting the site plan approval process,” Mr. Sendlewski said. “We were very far through it. It’s just a matter of re-review.”