Suffolk Theater proposing 28-apartment, five-story expansion

The Suffolk Theater is proposing a 59-foot-high addition to the rear of its building that will create about 2,970 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 28 apartments on the second through fifth floors. 

A rendering of the expansion’s exterior shows large murals of music legends like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix, among others.

Former Riverhead councilman Vic Prusinowski, working as a consultant on the project, said 20 of the market-rate apartments will be studios and eight will be one-bedroom units.

Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi discussed the project at the Town Board work session last Thursday, along with Mr. Prusinowki and architect Ric Stott. 

“The mixed use guarantees revenue for the future operation of the theater,” Mr. Prusinowski said. “The performing arts part of this business is an up-and-down business, subject to weather, pandemics, you name it. We’ve been closed during the pandemic and only reopened on Aug. 27.”

The income from the rentals will help ensure a revenue stream, he said. 

The proposed addition also includes an expanded backstage area for the theater, with  a new “green room,” new dressing rooms, restrooms, a kitchenette, a laundry room, showers and a new mechanical room, according to Riverhead Town planning aide Greg Bergman. 

Mr. Castaldi bought the theater from the town in 2006 and always intended to expand it, he said. A number of high-profile acts have performed there, including the Rascals, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins and Art Garfunkle, among others, he said. 

The proposal is located within the Downtown Riverhead Parking District, meaning the theater pays a parking district tax that, in exchange, permits it to use the town lot for its parking. 

Mr. Bergman said the parking shown in the site plan appears to be based on the zoning of the parking lot behind Suffolk Theater prior to an $800,000 reconfiguration of that lot earlier this year.

He said the drawings submitted by the applicant appear to state that 28 parking stalls will be lost, while 14 will be gained, even though the drawings show only 12 spaces. He said this is unclear and needs to be clarified. 

Mr. Bergman said the town has never had an application that resulted in a loss of parking stalls. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard, the Town Board liaison to the parking district, said the district just bonded about $800,000 for various parking space projects on this spot and others in downtown. He asked if Mr. Castaldi would be willing to reimburse the district.

Mr. Castaldi said those parking stalls were lost when he bought the property in 2006. 

Mr. Hubbard said there will be fewer spaces once this expansion  is completed. 

“I don’t think that’s correct,” Mr. Castaldi said. 

“If you do a count of what is there right now, and then again when your project is done, there will be less parking spaces,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

Mr. Prusinowski said they will look into that issue further. But he said the theater does pay parking district taxes, and paid into the the $800,000 bond as well. 

Mr. Prusinowski pointed out that the Suffolk Theater also pays property taxes, but noted that it plans to seek Industrial Development Agency tax breaks on sales tax for construction materials for the addition.