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BIDMA considers 12-foot ‘Riverhead Welcomes You’ sculpture

At first glance, it looks like a pair of very worn jeans standing up on its own. A closer look reveals the words “Riverhead Welcomes You.”

It’s a replica of a 12-foot bronze sculpture that Riverhead Town could obtain with county grant money instead of the usual “wayfinding” signs that direct people to tourist attractions.

The sculpture is the work of Giancarlo Biagi, who along with business partner Jill Burkee, has proposed a two-story 4,440-square-foot building with gallery space and artist loft for the empty Main Street lot between Barth’s Drug Store and Haiku restaurant.

According to Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association president Steve Shauger, the town received about $65,000 in grant money from Suffolk County for wayfinding signs within the BID.

However, Mr. Biagi offered to create a sculpture that would take the place of those signs and would still qualify for the grant money, Mr. Shauger said at last Wednesday’s BIDMA meeting.

“These artists asked if we would consider doing a monument sign that would be 10 to 12 feet tall, and it must be on municipal property,” he said. “It can’t be located on private property.”

Another option would to construct several smaller sculptures, he said.

Mr. Biagi and his wife, Germana Pucci — the managing editor of Sculpture Review magazine and is one of the project applicants — have a home and studio in Northville in addition to studios in Italy and Manhattan.

Mr. Biagi and Ms. Burkee attended the Feb. 15 BIDMA meeting, but due to a conflict with Supervisor Sean Walter’s State of the Town address, not enough members were present to make a vote on the proposal possible.

Mr. Shauger suggested Peconic Avenue as a good location for the sign.

BIDMA members were asked last Wednesday whether they favored spending the grant money on sculpture or on traditional signs, but no conclusion was reached and the issue will be decided at a future meeting.

BIDMA member Dee Muma asked if they could spend some of the grant money on two small statues and use the rest for traditional signs.

Mr. Shauger said he’d have to check, but he said they wouldn’t be able to have the 12-foot sculpture and the regular signs.

“This looks nice but we don’t have unlimited money,” said BIDMA member Michael Butler, who owns the Woolworth Apartments downtown.

“I’m not ready to make a commitment,” he said. “Signage is a big issue downtown.”

Whichever approach the BIDMA ultimately recommends, Mr. Shauger said, the project will still need Town Board approval.

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Photo: A replica of a 12-foot bronze sculpture created by Giancarlo Biagi that might welcome visitors to Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)