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Top Stories 2021: Town square development highlights big plans for downtown

For the past few years, officials in Riverhead have been focused on the development of downtown Main Street.

But last year, the focus turned, in part, toward demolishing some of it.

The town acquired three buildings with the goal of demolishing two of them to create a scenic vista from the Suffolk Theater to the Peconic River.

The town is calling the proposal that would come out of the new vista a “town square.”

Purchased for demolition were the former Swezey’s Home Furnishings store, which was vacant, and a building that housed Twin Fork Bicycles, which was still open when the town announced plans to demolish the building. A third building, which contains Craft’d and other businesses, was also purchased by the town, which has yet to decide what to do with it.

The town’s plans for downtown were aided by the private sector as well. The non-profit Long Island Science Center acquired the former Swezey’s main building —separate from the home furnishings building — with the goal of expanding the Science Center and even building a planetarium as part of the museum. The LISC received a $1.12 million state grant for the project earlier this month.

To the east of the LISC is the former West Marine building, which has been vacant and falling apart for years. Builder Wayne Steck plans to develop a mixed-use building there with 45 apartment units. The town’s 2003 limit of 500 new apartment units in downtown has been surpassed already, and officials will have to decide if they want to eliminate that limit.

If they do, a 170-unit apartment complex on the former Sears site on Main Street is waiting in the wings.

A 28-unit expansion of the Suffolk Theater, a nine-apartment, mixed-use development on McDermott Avenue, and a 37-unit, five-story apartment building just off Main Street on 205 Osborn Avenue are also proposed by developers. The latter involved removing a blighted building that currently occupies the site.

The town in March also issued a request for proposals to build a “Transportation-Oriented Development” by the Long Island Rail Road parking lot, which officials say is often mostly vacant. That proposal would allow the town to leverage the parking lot for a mixed-use space featuring offices or stores on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors, officials say.

The town has yet to select a developer for this project.