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Downtown Riverhead, EPCAL selected as ‘opportunity zones’

New York State has nominated downtown Riverhead and the Enterprise Park at Calverton as “opportunity zones,” a new federal designation that allows low-income census tracts to boost private investment in under-served urban and rural communities.

They are among the 514 low-income census tracts that the state nominated Friday to the U.S. Treasury, which will make the final selections.

Census tracts selected as “opportunity zones” may receive funding from what’s being called “Opportunity Funds,” which allow a wide array of investors to pool their resources to rebuild distressed neighborhoods, according to state officials.

“It’s very exciting,” Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said. “I’m thrilled that we are eligible for the opportunity zone and I think it gives us a lot of opportunity to develop and attract new investment in the town. I think it’s a great thing for Riverhead.”

Riverhead officials have been trying to redevelop downtown and EPCAL for years.

Each state was permitted to nominate up to 25 percent of its qualifying census tracts as Opportunity Zones, which had to have at least 21 percent of its population below the federal poverty rate, or be located contiguous to a qualifying tract.

The downtown Riverhead census tract qualified, and Riverhead Town officials had urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to also select EPCAL.

Officials in neighboring Southampton Town were hoping the governor would nominate the contiguous Riverside area, and even hand-delivered a petition with more than 500 signatures to the governor.

But Riverside, which has been the target of extensive restoration efforts over the past five years, was not selected by the state.

While the Riverside hamlet is considered to be one of the most economically disadvantaged in Suffolk County, the census tract it is located in also contained Flanders and Northampton, and the combination of those three hamlets did not make the 21 percent poverty rate, officials said.

“In New York State, we’ve focused on revitalizing our downtowns and investing in the communities that need it most,” said Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky, in a press release announcing the selections. “The Opportunity Zone Program will be a complementary initiative that helps to attract additional private investment to the hundreds of communities that Governor Cuomo has recommended for this designation.”

Riverhead and Greenport were the only East End census tracts to meet the 21 percent poverty requirement.

In addition to Riverhead and EPCAL, the only other Suffolk County census tracts to be recommended by the state for Opportunity Zone designation were Wyandanch, North Bellport and two Center Islip tracts.

It is unclear when the U.S. Treasury would make its selections or how many census tracts would be picked.

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