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Town eyes $500,000 grant for two downtown projects

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Riverhead Town is applying for a $500,000 state grant that it hopes can be used toward funding of two privately-owned projects in downtown Riverhead, which are both proposed in buildings that have been vacant for many years.

“The Restore NY Communities Initiative grant is intended to provide financial assistance for the revitalization of distressed communities, and Riverhead is considered moderately distressed,” said Chris Kempner, Riverhead’s community development director, at a public hearing on the grant application Wednesday.

The two projects highlighted in the grant application are Georgica Green Ventures’ proposal to build a 118-unit workforce apartment building at the site of the former McCabes building, and Michael Butler’s proposal to transform the former West Marine building into a local food market and production facility, she said.

The Georgica Green project, which also includes land to the south that was recently purchased from the Gammon family, is a $45 million project, while the West Marine project, which is proposed by the owner and developer of the Woolworth apartments on East Main Street, is about a $6 million project, Ms. Kempner said.

“The grant seeks to eliminate and develop blighted properties,” she said, adding that increasing the tax base and making the community more economically viable are also goals of the grant.

“We’re hoping this creates a more walkable downtown and creates some jobs as well,” Ms. Kempner said.

Connie Lassandro, a consultant for Georgica Greens, which is headed by developer David Gallo, said in addition to the apartments, the project features about 5,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor on Main Street. A restaurant is planned for the remaining 6,000 square feet on the southern portion of the project that faces the Peconic River.

There also will be underground parking proposed, she said.

“The Restore NY funds are really very essential, especially when you have a retail use,” Ms. Lassandro told the Town Board.

While no one spoke at the hearing representing the other project, Michael Butler did give a presentation on his plans at a recent Riverhead Town Board work session.

He is planning to turn the vacant building into an indoor open food market and eatery with indoor and outdoor seating, plus a food production-demonstration area.

He plans to divide the 9,500-square-foot building so that the front would become a market with space for 16 vendors, while the back would become a restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the Peconic Riverfront.

The center of the building would become a production center for farmers or others to create products, according to Mr. Butler’s plans.

Mr. Butler said he hopes to hold demonstrations in the building so visitors can see products being made.

“We want to make it an attraction for people to come from all over the East End,” he said in July.

The former West Marine building on West Main Street. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
The former West Marine building on West Main Street. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The West Marine building has been vacant for more than a decade since the business relocated to Route 58, and it has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

Mr. Butler already has experience with redeveloping long-vacant buildings in downtown Riverhead.

Two years ago he turned the upper floor of the then-vacant Woolworth building into a 19-unit workforce housing project along with the Maximus gym and three stores on Main Street.

The grant application must be filed with the state by Oct. 3, Ms. Kempner said. She did not know when the state would be announcing the recipients of the grant, but she said areas with designated Brownfield Opportunities Areas or Empire Zones receive “extra points” in the selection process, and Riverhead has both.

Other than Ms. Kempner and Ms. Lassandro, no one else spoke at the public hearing Wednesday.

Top photo caption: A rendering of the proposed apartment complex and restaurant at the former former McCabe’s/Dinosaur Walk Museum location.

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