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Committee narrows wishlist for $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant down to 10 projects

The Local Planning Committee tasked with prioritizing projects for the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant has narrowed down to 10 projects.

The state has recommended submitting a strategic investment plan with $12 to $15 million worth of projects, DRI state specialist Jeannette Rausch said at a public meeting held Monday at the Long Island Aquarium. The LPC has outlined 10 projects to prioritize for the downtown area, including the Town Square and riverfront amphitheater. The DRI funding requests, as presented Monday night, total $16.625 million.

“The selection criteria as a community is, you know, we’re looking for physical features that promote a livable, mixed-use downtown, recent or impending job growth, ability to leverage additional public and private investment and commitment from local leaders,” Ms. Rausch said of the towns qualified for DRI funding. 

The final LPC meeting will be held next Monday, where the LPC plans to vote on the final project list to submit to the state. Decisions from the state will likely come in early fall.

“All the projects are worthy,” Ms Rausch added, emphasizing that the committee was still collecting comments at the meeting. “It’s just some of them, the timing or the funding match isn’t the most appropriate for DRI at this time.”

Projects were evaluated based on project readiness, economic impact and how well they supported state and local goals. DRI funding can only be used in a specific area of the downtown.

Some key goals for Riverhead include making the downtown a “regional destination,” making the “Peconic River a central feature of Downtown Riverhead’s identity with new connections, activities and development,” and implementing “strategies for flood mitigation integrated with the downtown plan and new projects,” a presentation says.

According to plans pitched Monday, the proposed Town Square will be separated into three projects — the town square plaza, waterfront amphitheater and waterfront park/playground — to allow Riverhead Town, as the project’s sponsor, to be reimbursed after each phase and allow portions of the project to be funded under other state grants if they don’t receive DRI funding.

The town square was initially submitted as part of a private development project, according to Perkins Eastman representative Will Quattlebaum. The state, however, requires an open request for proposal process for state funds to go to a public project.

“And so in this case it actually makes more sense for the town to be the sponsor, and for the funding to only go to open space public improvements,” he added. “Now none of the funding will go toward things like the retail and the hotel, or any of the other for-profit components of the project. It would just go toward three separate projects.”

A boutique hotel is planned to the east of the town square but will not seek DRI funding. The upper town square will provide open vistas and a public gathering place with street furniture, lighting, a public restroom and elevators and stairs to the waterfront. The requested DRI funding is $3.6 million.

A waterfront amphitheater planned to go next to the town square would create a space for outdoor concerts and events, and along with a proposed playground, is part of the resiliency solution for downtown Riverhead. 

One component that’s been added to the playground plans is a “splash pad,” which is “like a water park for kids, with fountains coming out of the ground that kids can play around in,” Mr. Quattlebaum said. 

Riverhead has requested $1.5 million for the amphitheater and $1.75 million for the playground in DRI funding.

The LPC also plans to prioritize:

• A mixed-use building on Griffing Avenue with residential units, including workforce housing, above commercial space compatible with the nearby courthouse. A parking garage is planned for behind the building. A total of $2.75 million is requested in DRI funding. It’s sponsored by RXR.

• The Long Island Science Center has purchased the building to the west of the proposed town square, with plans to renovate the facade facing the town square. The center, as the project sponsor, is seeking funding for that facade and to build out a ground floor space that includes a lobby, maker space, gift shop and a new space for Craft’d restaurant. The project would cost an estimated $14.56 million, with $2.56 million requested in DRI funding.

• An expansion of Suffolk Theater, with 28 residential apartments — including three affordable units — above the theater. A new addition at the back of the theater would include a deeper stage, green room and “back of house functions,” according to a presentation. The cost of the expansion is estimated to total $13.25 million, with $3 million requested in DRI funding. Suffolk Theater is the project sponsor. 

• A new entrance and lobby space off of Main Street for the Riverhead Free Library, with a welcome center included in the lobby that offers information about businesses and events downtown. The library has also requested funding for a new digital sign facing Central Drive bridge, that can be programmed to display messages and announcements. The library, which is the project sponsor, plans to use its capital budget for a 50% match of DRI funding. The estimated total for the project is $430,000, with $215,000 requested in DRI funding.

• A Downtown Public Art Program with five to seven new permanent artworks in Downtown Riverhead, built by local artists. The project is sponsored by the Riverhead Business Improvement District and is intended to build off the existing Reflexions program. An estimated $250,000 in DRI funding would be requested to cover the cost of the project.

• A floating ADA accessible public boat launch and storage facility with space for 45-foot crew boats. The state Department of Environmental Conservation may require the project to be relocated further upland. Presenters on Monday noted that the facility would help resolve current safety issues caused by pedestrians carrying vessels across busy roads to the water. The project, sponsored by the town, comes to an estimated total of $275,000 and would be mostly covered by the requested $250,000 in DRI funding.

• Pedestrian enhancements to Main Street, including curb bump-outs, raised crosswalks, street trees and new landscaping along key stretches. The town-sponsored project would be covered by the requested $750,000 in DRI funding. 

Proposals to improve Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, pedestrianize a road from Main Street to Heidi Behr Way, and improve Griffing Avenue and downtown wayfinding and safety have been listed among projects unlikely to make the final cut.

“At the final LPC meeting, this could change but it’s unlikely at this point that these four projects would be included unless something drastic happens,” Mr. Quattlebaum said. “These are all great projects. They weren’t necessarily not funded by the merits of the project … They hadn’t gotten the project or the proposal at the point where it could be funded or where the state would feel confident putting money into the project knowing it would be ready in two years and knowing the sponsor would be able to implement the project.”

After the governor announces which projects will move forward this fall, the state will enter contracts with each individual sponsor. Each project will have a different timeline but “the idea is that within five years everything’s done, ideally sooner,” according to Ms. Rausch.