How can Riverhead attract additional tourists?


In recent years, a consistent theme has emerged in Riverhead: marketing the town as a destination for shoppers and vacationers. 

To reach that goal, community members have partnered with Sustainable Long Island, a non-profit economic development organization, and Long Island Arts Alliance, a network of art organizations. Their focus is on expanding tourism — which includes drawing visitors from New York City and promoting Riverhead as a place people plan their vacations around — and emphasizing the town’s arts and culture services.

The organizations, along with representatives from local stakeholders such as Tanger Outlets, Hampton Jitney and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, gathered in April at Hotel Indigo East End to discuss the current state of the town, as well as its goals.

“We already have so many resources here on Long Island overlooked with both arts and culture,” said Ann Fangmann, executive director of Sustainable Long Island.

Ms. Fangmann said that while many people visit the North Fork’s wineries and breweries or shop at Tanger Outlets, they may be unaware of the area’s historic buildings and other venues worth visiting.

After the meeting’s participants were surveyed, it was determined that among 10 local arts and culture venues, the Long Island Aquarium, East End Arts Gallery and Suffolk Theater are the most-frequented destinations.

Representatives said they felt tourists, both domestic and international, traveled to Riverhead Town solely by car or bus. Locals were more likely to drive and non-residents were more likely to ride the bus.

The group determined that in order to encourage more people to visit the area’s cultural destinations, additional infrastructure is needed, such as hotels, restaurants and public and private transportation.

They stressed, however, that without additional surrounding infrastructure the town could only support increased international tourism during off-season months, according to data released at the meeting by Sustainable Long Island.

The focus group also said it felt creating more “unique experiences,” such as festivals and art-centered events, would bolster tourism. It cited Patchogue Village as an example.

“The Village of Patchogue has had great success with growing visitors to their area to come in and take in their assets in the village,” Ms. Fangmann said. “Many used Patchogue as an example for unique experiences.”

Riverhead has already begun to adopt this model by partnering with Patchogue to host its popular “Alive After Five” events this summer. This month and next, the street fair will be held in Patchogue and Riverhead, the latter of which renamed it “Alive on 25,” on alternating weekends. Additionally, Nile Rodgers’ FOLD Festival was held at Martha Clara Vineyards last August. The three-day event scheduled for this year, however, was recently postponed.

The New York State Council on the Arts supports the growth initiative on a larger scale, with additional backing from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Long Island Community Foundation and the Rauch Foundation. Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and ALON Marketing Group have also partnered on the project, said Theresa Statz-Smith, executive director of Long Island Arts Alliance.

During the focus meeting — held as part of an ongoing Long Island Arts and Culture-based Tourism Corridors Program that exists in three other areas: Gold Coast (Great Neck to Glen Cove), African American Heritage (Hempstead) and Main Street USA (Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington and Northport) — the 11 representatives agreed that one of the main obstacles associated with increased tourism is additional traffic.

Ms. Statz-Smith said LIAA is working with airports, Hampton Jitney and the Long Island Rail Road to offer visitors more options.

The next steps for the project, which has been active for about a year, include creating a master plan for the initiative, developing a “comprehensive arts and culture tourism map” for the Riverhead corridor and having ALON Marketing Group develop specific travel trade packages for the town, according to the focus group’s summary.

“Because this was our first foray into all this, we were really pleased with the response,” Ms. Statz-Smith said. “The people that attended it were all the leaders … We had representatives from what we needed because we need to work with the community and hear from the community, so it was important.”

Photo Caption: Atlantis Marine World, a popular destination for tourists in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

[email protected]