Riverhead Town hit a redevelopment milestone on Monday, October 18, when bulldozers went to work knocking down buildings to make way for a planned Town Square.
The demolition of the two long blighted buildings across Main Street from the Suffolk Theater, including the former home to Sweezy’s Furniture store that sat empty since the store closed in 2003, was a welcome moment, government officials said, as it will pave the way for what they hope will be the historic revitalization of Downtown Riverhead. The building at 117 East Main Street, which had been home of Sweezy’s Furniture store was a particular eye-sour as it fell into a state of disrepair since the store closed in 2003.
“The redevelopment of the Riverhead Town Square is an amazing partnership between state, local and federal officials as we work together to revitalize and rejuvenate this important economic corridor for the region. Once completed, this project will greatly improve and enhance the quality of life for residents and businesses alike,” New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo said in a statement.
The demolition of the buildings at 117 and 121 East Main Street was the first step in the actual creation of the public gathering space and reorienting the pedestrian focus from Main Street to the Peconic Riverwalk, a statement from Supervisor Yvette Aguia’s office explained. Plans for the building at 127 East Main Street include extensive renovation, through a private sector partnership, the supervisor said.
Some existing parking will be used toward the public gathering space. Splash fountains and a themed children’s playground are also planned.
Empire State Development Chief Operating Officer and Executive Deputy Commissioner Kevin Younis said the Town Square will be “a vibrant new gathering space for Riverhead families that will be a boon for business growth and job creation, delivering on the State’s priority to strengthen New York’s economy and support businesses and working families.”
“I want to commend the entire Town Board, as well as the Community Development Department, Engineering Department and Law Department staff, for their commitment and efforts to take significant actions since 2020 to move the redevelopment of Downtown Riverhead forward,” Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in a statement.
Town officials are grateful, she said, to its government partners for providing necessary grant funding from New York State and Suffolk County to help make the Town Square a reality.
The Riverhead Town Board committed to bond up to $5.5 million for the project in 2020 and purchased three properties in May 2021. In 2019, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council awarded an $800,000 grant to the town to use toward creating a Town Square through in 2019. The town is also using $1.2 million Suffolk County funds for the project.
Congressman Lee Zeldin assisted the town addressing flood mitigation measures necessary to protect the Town Square and downtown Riverhead. The U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers completed a Flood Plain Management Study (FPMS) in 2020, which cost $140,000, which was matched by $40,000 from the ESD Town Square funding.
“Monday’s demolition in Riverhead marks the beginning of what will be a historic revitalization of Downtown Riverhead, which will kickstart the local economy, expand opportunity and provide an overall improvement to the quality of life of Riverhead residents,” Zeldin said in a statement. “I’m proud to have played a role in getting the project to this point and will continue advocating for the approval of Riverhead’s RAISE grant application to help fund the Town Square.”
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. pointed to other economic development projects, such as the Long Island Science Center, which purchased the building next to the Town Square, and offer a bring a state-of-the-art planetarium. “I applaud the Town of Riverhead for following the vision of the community and transforming Riverhead into an attractive destination for all,” he said.