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‘Riverhead Town Square will positively transform our downtown,’ supervisor says as town finalizes deal

Riverhead Town finalized the deal to purchase three East Main Street properties Tuesday. The move is part of an overall plan to begin transforming the area into a Town Square, officials said.

“This is the next significant step to creating our new Town Square,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in a statement. “I am excited to continue the progress that the Town Board has made in the last year, despite the pandemic, by signing the documents necessary to close.”

Barry Long of Urban Design Associates, the consulting firm overseeing the project, said feedback on the Town Square has been overwhelmingly positive. 

“We really haven’t had anybody who came to any of our sessions and said this is a bad idea,” he said. 

The town will acquire three buildings, two of which are vacant. The plan is to demolish these structures to create an open vista from East Main Street to the Peconic River. The vacant buildings once housed Twin Fork Bicycles and the former Swezey’s furniture store.

The third building, which is occupied by the restaurant Craft’d and other active businesses, “may remain in place, although it will be extensively renovated, if it is not replaced,” the supervisor said.

The town is considering either expanding that building or creating a second structure behind it, according to plans.

“Riverhead Town Square will positively transform our downtown into a thriving regional destination that offers an attractive venue for people to live, work and play here in Riverhead,” Ms. Aguiar said.

A rendering of the Riverhead Town Square. (Credit: Urban Design Associates)

All three properties were owned by Riverhead Enterprises, which at one time owned 11 buildings in downtown Riverhead. Now it owns just one: the former Sear’s site, according to Scott Gordon, son of Riverhead Enterprises president Sheldon Gordon. 

“Riverhead Enterprises is pleased to close on the sale of three East Main St. properties to the Town of Riverhead,” Sheldon Gordon said in a statement. “We are very excited to see how the Town Square develops and very happy to be part of the process.”

In addition to the three Riverhead Enterprise properties, the former Swezey’s building on East Main Street was recently acquired by the Long Island Science Center, which plans to expand its programming there. In addition, the former West Marine building has been acquired by builder Wayne Steck, who plans to demolish it to build a mixed-use apartment complex.

The town has allocated $1.8 million in grant money toward the Town Square project, and plans to sell or lease some town-owned land to cover some of its estimated $5.5 million cost. The total cost includes the acquisition and demolition of the buildings.

The town also plans to apply for at least two large grants to offset the cost of the project. One is a federal transportation grant called Raise 2021, which can provide up to $25 million, while the other is the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which can provide up to $10 million to one recipient.

“I want to thank Riverhead Enterprises for being a cooperative seller of these three parcels,” Ms. Aguiar said. “I also want to express my appreciation to the entire Town Board for working cooperatively, as a team, to work so diligently in a bipartisan manner to get this deal to the finish line and serve our mutual constituents in the best manner possible.”

The preliminary design was unveiled two weeks ago, following extensive public participation that included meetings with key stakeholders and three virtual public meetings.

Plans include possibly building a parking garage in either the existing lot north of East Main Street or the Riverfront parking lot. In addition, the town plans to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deal with tidal flooding downtown.

“Everything is coming together, it’s very exciting,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said at the closing.

“These are exciting times for Riverhead because this is going to change our whole landscape for the better,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said.

The public can view the plans, and continue to provide feedback as the project progresses, at https://www.engagetheteam.com/riverheadtownsquare.