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Art gallery, loft proposed for downtown Riverhead


A proposed art gallery with artist lofts in downtown Riverhead that has been in the works since 2001 is finally making moves toward construction.

The updated plan for Viva L’Arte Center, by sculptor Giancarlo Biagi and his business partner Jill Burkee, calls for a two-story, 4,440-square-foot building on the empty lot in between Barth’s Drug Store and Haiku on Main Street. An earlier site plan had been approved for the project in 2005, but lack of funds put it on pause.

The gallery space will include an office, as well as a loft, otherwise described as a “transient residence,” where visiting artists can stay while their worked is being displayed. It will also be the site of publication for a new international sculpture journal.

Mr. Biagi, who has a studio in Northville, said before a Town Board work session Thursday that he wants to bring what he’s learned during his life as an artist to Riverhead, which he feels can become a prominent artist community. He noted that the area already has substantial art endeavors such as East End Arts and Vail-Leavitt Music Hall. Artists are looking to migrate in to less “saturated” areas, he said.

“Most important is that we find the collaboration among all these art endeavors will help this community grow economically,” he said, adding that he’s seen this type of growth before. “We always see it. I saw SoHo going wherever it was and then Chelsea, and now Lower East Side where I reside.”

Mr. Biagi said he and Ms. Burkee plan to use their connections from Europe and Manhattan to introduce new artists to the community.

Riverhead Town Councilman John Dunleavy said he agrees that the space and artist connections will be good for the town.

“You have the vision of what we can do out here,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

The applicants are looking to set a hearing on the final site plan next month and the project’s SEQRA review is pending. The two said they plan on introducing themselves to the community during the East End Arts festival in May and hope to break ground within the year.

Photo caption: A rendering of what the proposed building would look like between Barth’s Drug Store and Haiku on Main Street.

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