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Town Board to require more detailed financials before CAT vote

A split Riverhead Town Board said Tuesday that it will require Calverton Aviation & Technology to submit a more detailed analysis of its finances before voting on their proposal to buy 1,640 acres of town-owned land in Calverton for $40 million.

The swing vote — although the board didn’t take an official vote — was Councilman Tim Hubbard, who admitted that his position on CAT has previously been “all over the place.”

“Given the circumstances of what has been presented to us in terms of the financials from CAT, it’s not possible for me to vote in favor of this project without having more information,” Mr. Hubbard said Tuesday night.

“So my request, and I spoke to the supervisor and the other board members, is that I would like to have CAT be able to provide us with the correct financials that we need to make an educated decision on this project,” he added.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Catherine Kent, both Democrats, sided with Mr. Hubbard, a Republican.

Republican Jim Wooten did not, and Republican Jodi Giglio said, “You have three votes. I’m not going to say no, I don’t want to see the financials, but I am saying the information I’ve seen thus far is satisfactory to me.”

She said it doesn’t have to be a “forensic audit, we’re not looking for a needle in a haystack. We’re just looking to  somebody to certify that they have the wherewithal to buy the property and build it out.”

“We should be seeing all of the financial documents,” Mr. Kent said, adding that it should be done in a public forum because the Town Board represents the public.

Mr. Wooten said that Triple Five Group, CAT’s majority owner, has been investing in the community and will create jobs on the EPCAL property.

“This has been the town that couldn’t get it done for 20 years,” he said, referring to the length of time the town has owned the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

At issue is the requirement in the “qualified and eligible sponsor” designation that must be achieved before the town can sell land in a urban renewal area such as EPCAL.

The Q&E requires the buyer to submit a development plan and to show that they have the finances and ability to carry out the purchase and plan.

Triple Five has not agreed to make those documents public.

However, Ms. Giglio said that Triple Five has indicated that it would it would provide financial information if the town could agree to keep them confidential. She said town finance administrator Bill Rothaar was not comfortable doing this analysis himself, and so the town reached out to four large accounting firms and was told they would charge between $50,000 and $100,000 to review CAT’s finances.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the town asked Triple Five to pay that cost, but they declined.

Ms. Giglio said that the outside attorneys the town hired for this project have said that only one prior Q&E applicant, Riverhead Resorts, presented financial details. Mr. Rothaar had recently told the Board that CAT didn’t provide any of the financial information the town requested.

Triple Five is a privately-owned company which built the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada — two of the largest shopping and entertainment centers in North America.

Stuart Bienenstock, Triple Five’s director of business development, attended Tuesday’s meeting but declined to comment afterward, saying he wanted to talk to Triple Five’s lawyers first.

Ms. Jens-Smith said Triple Five had previously declined to pay for a third-party investigation of its finances, but she planned to ask again.

The Town Board had previously closed the Q&E hearing on Triple Five, meaning no new information can be submitted in the hearing process.

Photo caption: Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Tim Hubbard at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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