November 01, 2006

Downtown Revitalization Takes Shape in Riverhead

Sunny skies heralded a new day in Riverhead last Friday as elected officials gathered to celebrate an important step in the town's ongoing efforts toward downtown revitalization.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale was joined by Congressman Tim Bishop, New York State Senator Ken LaValle, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, and Assemblyman Marc Alessi for the dedication of a $2.5 million Riverwalk project that promises to infuse life into the downtown Riverhead area.

The project, shepherded by Andrea Lohneiss, Riverhead's community development agency director, included the construction of a quarter-mile boardwalk along the Peconic River and replacement of a deteriorated bulkhead. Also, the money will help to beautify the area with new benches, lighting and landscaping in addition to a dedicated bike path that's planned.

"The Peconic Riverwalk project is an important part of downtown Riverhead's revitalization, and I am pleased that I was able to deliver nearly $2 million to build the new boardwalk and improve the waterfront," said Bishop. The congressman, who secured $1.8 million in federal scenic byways funding for the project, has been behind Riverhead's ongoing efforts toward revitalization and has delivered $4.2 million toward town improvements in recent years.

Cardinale said the bright day was a "real tribute to cooperation between all levels of government," including efforts on the federal, state, county and local levels. "Because of all the contributions, we had a $2.5 million project which involved only a few hundred thousand dollars of the town's money," said the supervisor.

Cardinale said the dedication was the second of what he hoped would be many of such celebratory events. The supervisor reminded that Levy was recently out in Riverhead for the groundbreaking on the brand-new culinary arts center. "Shortly, he'll be back again," for a new court opening slated for early 2007, said Cardinale.

Other projects will include enhancing the emerging face of Riverhead with the restoration of Main Street's Suffolk Theatre, the pending development at Atlantis Marine World featuring a proposed new hotel, and the much-anticipated Apollo Real Estate project, poised to transform downtown Riverhead with a plan that calls for the development of a multiplex movie theater, a specialty food store, residential units, a parking facility and a new hotel.

"Around town, we've got about a dozen projects," said Cardinale.

Another important piece of the revitalization puzzle involves Grangebel Park. After Levy told Cardinale the county had $50,000 extra earmarked for urban revitalization, the supervisor said the funds could be earmarked toward a $1.5 million project aimed at connecting Grangebel Park with Riverside Park. Crosswalk curbing and lighting controlled by buttons will enable pedestrians to stroll from Grangebel Park to Riverside Park.

The long-term plan focuses on a suggestion by Apollo representatives to raise the road so that the riverfront boardwalk could continue under the bridge "sometime in the distant future," said Cardinale.

Although Riverside Park is fully located in Riverhead, a portion of Grangebel Park is located in the Town of Southampton.

According to Cardinale, Southampton is working toward acquiring the site of the Peconic Paddler and assuming it into the park; talks are ongoing. Southampton has already worked to clean up a corner site, once inhabited by a garage and incorporated the parcel into the park.

The plan, said Cardinale, is to create bridges that will allow pedestrian traffic and crosswalks from the county center, across Flanders Road, to Grangebel Park and town for lunch.

The two court complexes will also be connected. "In the warmer months, people will feel comfortable traversing between the two points," said Cardinale.

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