Gurney's Inn
May 17, 2006

Downtown Redevelopment Takes Shape

Independent / Courtesy Spector Group Visitors to downtown Riverhead may soon be able to stroll along an esplanade by the Peconic Waterfront as redevelopment becomes reality. (click for larger version)
For years, Main Street in downtown Riverhead presented a bleak scenario. Empty storefronts and boarded-up businesses were a stark symbol of futility, of dark days when merchants couldn't keep up to make ends meet in the town's downward-spiraling economy.

Today, however, a walk along the same street carries with it a sense of changing times. Riverhead's downtown area is infused with a sense of optimism as long-time merchants and new neighbors alike anticipate a future that's tinged with promise and prosperity.

And nowhere was the upbeat mood more prevalent than at last Thursday's Riverhead Town Board work session, when Apollo Real Estate and the Spector Group, the architectural group slated to redevelop the area, teamed up for a presentation regarding a status update of Phase 1 of the Riverhead Downtown Riverfront Redevelopment Project.

Michael Mannetta, partner and director of design for the Spector Group, walked the town board through a step-by-step presentation detailing each of the design components. He also outlined changes to the initial plan for the south side of Main Street, which calls for the development of a multiplex movie theater, a specialty food store, residential units, and a parking facility.

There is big news in regard to the site of the old Woolworth building, said Mannetta. Instead of residential units, the new concept plan calls for the creation of a brand-new boutique hotel, complete with a pool, courtyard, and conference rooms. Mannetta said that the Marriott chain has expressed interest in the proposal.

After months of planning, the whole concept is finally taking shape: "We're now in the stage where it's no longer just pretty pictures," he said, adding that they are now working with tax maps to transform visions into reality. Details such as square footage and height are being determined.

Mannetta also outlined a proposal for a new road that would allow access to the parking garage and queuing area for the theater on the south side.

The 90 to 100-room hotel would be built on top of the building as an "of right" use, with special use permits. "It will crown the building as a penthouse," he said.

Architecture of the hotel would reflect Riverhead history, with attention to details such as cornices.

Also planned for the hotel is a lobby on the Main Street level, with both a front entrance and a back entrance leading out into the parking area in back. A major selling point of the hotel, said Mannetta, is its use as a state-of-the art business center for downtown Riverhead.

As the largest building in the area, the new structure, which will light up the town's night skyline, will raise the bar on area design standards. "This is the kind of quality we're looking for, for downtown Riverhead," said Mannetta.

A main entrance to the movie theater, boasting a 40-foot high lobby, would lead to escalators up to concessions and a gallery, with an entrance to a specialty foods store, such as Whole Foods, on the right of the building.

A "proper opening" onto Main Street on the west side of the Congregational Church, which is not being touched by the development, would allow right-in traffic only.

After the Woolworth building is razed, the plan is for the North Fork Bank, eyed next in the acquisition process, to come next, with the branch to relocate elsewhere.

And, across the street, on the north side, the plan calls for an archway to open up onto a view of the Peconic River, green park areas, an ice skating rink, a gazebo, and an esplanade for strolling.

The building itself would feature 50 residential units, with underground parking and retail space.

In the 64 days since the planning meetings began, Riverhead Town Deputy Supervisor Chris Kent said there have been weekly planning meetings.

In recent weeks, there have been two major developments. Apollo closed on the sale of the Woolworth Building, the first concrete step toward putting the pieces of downtown redevelopment into place.

Second, the town retained the services of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin, Reale, and Quartararo, LLP as counsel in the proceedings; the firm has played a big part so far in the town's revitalization process, according to Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale.

Cardinale said he was impressed with the Spector Group, who he said did an excellent job not only of presenting the newly designed buildings, but explaining objectives and outlining substantial changes in the plan. Those changes, said Cardinale, included ensuring that the northern building maintained the "fabric of historical Riverhead," while on the south side, site lines were maintained so that there would be no blocking view of the river from the far north of Main Street.

On the legal end, Cardinale said proceedings are "well underway," with "a good deal of progress" having been made, in regard to the memorandum of agreement between Apollo Real Estate and the town. There is a meeting scheduled for this morning, during which work is expected to begin on the initial drafts of the proposed designated developer agreement between master developer Apollo and Riverhead.

Cardinal expects an agreement to be complete by the first week in June.

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