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Officials formally announce Science Center’s in contract to buy former Swezey’s department store

Three long-vacant buildings in downtown Riverhead could be getting a boost soon.

The Long Island Science Center is in contract to buy the former Swezey’s department store, a new owner of the former West Marine building has a plan to redevelop it, and Riverhead Town is interested in buying the former Swezey’s Home Furnishing store.

“This is the perspective of what we are envisioning Riverhead looking like,” said Supervisor Yvette Aguiar Friday at a press conference in the Science Center. “One of the buildings is in contract, another one has been sold, and we are going to acquire at least one of the buildings.”

She said the plan, part of the town’s proposed “town square,” is going to open up the view from the river to the Suffolk Theater.

The town recently received an $800,000 Regional Economic Development Council grant for the Town Square project, while the Science Center received a $775,000 RED grant to move into a larger location, at the former Swezey’s site. The Science Center is in contract to buy that building.

They are currently operating out of a “pilot” location on Peconic Avenue until they get the permanent location. Larry Oxman, the president of the Science Center’s board of directors, said the current space has less than 1,500 square feet, while the Swezey’s building has 24,000 square feet on two floors.

“We have big plans,” said Cailin Kaller, the executive director of the Science Center. “We’re talking about having 6,000 feet of exhibition space upstairs.” They also will have a Long Island Heritage and Innovation Exhibit and they hope to have a rooftop garden on top of the building, she said.

Meanwhile, builder Wayne Steck has recently purchased the former West Marine building, adjacent to the Swezey’s building.

A rendering of The Science Center’s new home. (Courtesy rendering)

He plans to demolish that building and build a four-story, mixed-use building with 45 apartments on the top three floors and retail on the ground level.

He’s calling it “Landmark of Riverhead.”

“The first floor will be a mix of small retail stores in tiny booths with a central seating area,” he said in an interview. The stores could be anything from a candy or ice cream store, wine and cheese, a small deli counter or a small grocery store.

He is proposing to have 10 parking spaces under the building.

Both the former Swezey’s building and the former West Marine building have been vacant and unused for many years. West Marine moved to Route 58 in 2011 and Swezey’s went out of business in 2003.

The Swezey’s furniture store was part of the Swezey’s store but had different owners from the main Swezey’s building.

The town is seeking to acquire the former Swezey’s furniture store.

“It’s a work in progress and this is the first step,” Ms. Aguiar said.

The town and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also have been in contact to try to come up with a solution for the flooding in the Peconic River parking lot, according to Mark Woolley, an aide to Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

As for what the town square would entail, town Community Development director Dawn Thomas said, “We haven’t worked on the design yet, but it could have a splash pad for kids, or maybe the Science Center could design some interactive games for kids.”

She said there could also be a performance area with music or art shows from East End Arts.

Both the town and the Science Center say they will need more than the REC grants to make their projects happen.