Clearing the way for a Town Square in downtown Riverhead

The demolition of two vacant buildings on East Main Street in Riverhead — including the former Swezey’s Home Furnishings — commenced Monday morning and is expected to continue “for weeks,” according to Joe Petrocelli, whose company won the demolition contract.

The Riverhead Town Board held a press conference Monday, featuring speeches by numerous state, county and federal officials, and some residents walked away with a brick from the demolished building as a memento to mark the occasion. 

The demolition is the next step in Riverhead’s efforts to create a Town Square on the riverfront in order to open a vista from East Main Street to the Peconic River. The former home of Twin Forks Bicycles is also being demolished.

The demolition started with the furniture store, which most recently served as an indoor farmers market but had been vacant for several years, and will continue east to the former bike shop.

“Today, history will be made in the Town of Riverhead, as Petrocelli contracting will begin the demolition necessary to make room for a new Town Square,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “After demolition is completed, our Main Street will be open to our beautiful waterfront.”

The town committed up to $5.5 million for the project, which includes the acquisition of three properties and the demolition costs. The third building will be renovated rather than demolished.

“This culminates a tremendous amount of state, federal and local coordination, and so we’re really thankful to all layers of government for being here today,” said Dawn Thomas, the towns’ community development director. 

Riverhead received an $800,000 state grant and $1.2 million in county grants toward the Town Square. The town has also applied for a state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant, which could be as high as $20 million. 

“These buildings were about to be sold,” said Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow), a former town councilwoman. “If the Town of Riverhead didn’t take action immediately to acquire these buildings, we would be sitting here today looking at another developer knocking down these buildings, rather than opening a vista from the riverfront to the beautiful Suffolk Theater.” 

Suffolk County officials said this is a unique opportunity for Riverhead.

“This particular site has the development up above on Main Street and we have the natural assets of the Riverhead here to enjoy,” said Suffolk County Director of Planning and Economic Development Natalie Wright.

“It really comes together in something that isn’t really offered anywhere else. It’s a really a one-of-a-kind experience,” she said. 

J. Petrocelli Construction was awarded the contract for the demolition with a bid of $965,000. Mr. Petrocelli has also been involved in downtown revitalization efforts as owner of several properties, including the Long Island Aquarium and the Hyatt Place East End. Mr. Petrocelli said someone was found living in the former Swezey’s building Monday morning, just hours before the demolition, but they left before the demolition began.