In the race to be the North Fork’s new representative in the state Assembly, two of three candidates are calling for Riverhead Town to drop the proposed deal to sell 1,643 acres of land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton for $40 million, and the third is sticking with it.
Calverton Aviation and Technology, which is 75% owned by Triple Five Group, is the proposed buyer in the deal. The other 25% belongs to Luminati Aerospace, headed by Daniel Preston, which is a non-voting member of CAT.
Triple Five is best known for building large shopping centers like the Mall of America in Minnesota.
Incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) is running to fill the state Senate seat vacated by the retiring Ken LaValle, leaving his Assembly seat is now up for grabs among three candidates with experience in Riverhead Town.
Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio is running on the Republican line, former Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith is running on the Democratic line and former Greater Jamesport Civic Association president William Van Helmond is running on the Libertarian line.
“Today, I call upon the Riverhead Town Board to use the option granted to it under the terms of the existing contract to simply walk away from the ill-fated Triple Five/Luminati deal,” Ms. Jens-Smith said in a virtual press conference last Tuesday.
Ms. Jens-Smith said “Triple Five’s finances are too precarious, murky and clouded. All of Triple Five’s eggs are in the retail basket and retail was suffering pre-pandemic.”
She said Triple Five’s finances “are in a precarious state,” as they have had fiscal problems with other projects they own.
During her term as supervisor, Ms. Jens-Smith said, “we were under contract with Triple Five, and I had to act in good faith to complete the contract. I did the best that I could to move the Triple Five deal along. But, each day I worked alongside Triple Five, I saw clearly that their story did not add up, they didn’t keep their promises and they kept trying to change the rules.”
She denied Ms. Giglio’s claim that she did not try to get CAT approved.
Ms. Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Catherine Kent, both Democrats, voted against declaring CAT a “qualified and eligible” sponsor two years ago, but were outvoted 3-2 by that board’s Republican majority.
Ms. Jens-Smith feels the town should find a new buyer and look to lease the land instead of selling it.
She said “a principal in the deal had to step aside because he was found to have ‘intentionally defrauded’ an investor. What more does this Town Board need to know? Get out while the getting out is good.”
The contract between the town and CAT allowed either side to pull out of the deal after May 20, which is one year after the CAT declared it had completed its due diligence on the property and was ready to proceed. So far, neither side has done so.
Ms. Giglio feels the town needs to stick with the deal in order to create high-paying jobs and increased tax revenue. The town took ownership of the property in 2001.
“The property was given to the town to create jobs when Grumman left,” she said. “We need high-paying jobs and we need the property on the tax rolls.” She said the town will make $4 million per year in tax revenue “from the day we close, for relief to the taxpayers of this town.”
She said the $4 million in property taxes is just on the vacant land. She added that the town’s Industrial Development Agency doesn’t grant tax breaks on vacant land.
As for concerns about CAT’s finances, Ms. Giglio said, “A full audit from an outside accounting firm will occur before we close. We will make sure that not only do they have the $40 million to close, but that they have the money to build the aerospace hub that they were found qualified and eligible to build.”
The audit will cost between $50,000 and $75,000, she said.
Ms. Giglio also said the $40 million price tag is for land without infrastructure, which she said would cost the town between $60 million and $80 million if it built the infrastructure, instead of the buyer.
“We need to get this property on the tax rolls to create jobs and to bring another revenue source to the town and the school district,” she said.
Mr. Van Helmond, who is a long-shot running on a minor party line, said he has always been opposed to the CAT deal.
“I just felt the company that was purchasing the property … never provided details of who they were bringing in to the site,” he said.
Mr. Van Helmond said the $24,000 per acre sale price “is kind of an insult. It should be a lot higher. Where do you find an acre of property for $24,000 on Long Island? It doesn’t exist.”
Christoper Kent, the attorney representing CAT on this deal, has said nothing can go forward without first getting an approved eight-lot subdivision, which must be approved by the town.
The town, in turn, needs approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which it has yet to receive.