CAT Promises Tech Hub to Riverhead

Pictured Above: CAT’s proposed development plan for EPCAL

The developers who are planning to buy a vast swath of the Riverhead Town Industrial Development Agency’s Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) presented plans for intensive development alongside the existing runways at the former Grumman manufacturing site to the Riverhead Town Board at its Thursday morning work session, though they kept mum about what companies would be locating there.

The developers, a company known as Calverton Aviation and Technology (CAT), are a subsidiary of Triple Five Worldwide, a company owned by the Ghermezian family of Canada, who also own the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn.

Another subsidiary of Triple Five has purchased the former Dowling College site at Brookhaven Calabro Airport, where they also plan to focus on attracting aviation technology businesses.

Saying they wanted to “protect tenants from negative stories being published” about them, CAT’s attorney, Chris Kent of Farrell Fritz said potential tenants for the site include aviation and aerospace companies, wind power manufacturing, composite material manufacturers, prototype manufacturers, transportation companies and educational institutions, but declined to name them.

“We hope this could be recognized as the Silicon Valley of the east,” he added.

He did say that the prospective tenants who spoke at a 2018 qualified & eligible hearing on the purchase are still interested in locating at EPCAL.

The town has set a deadline of May 15, 2020 to close on the $40 million sale of 1,644 acres of the 2,324 acres site to CAT.

Riverhead Town's subdivision plan for EPCAL
Riverhead Town’s subdivision plan for EPCAL

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she would like to know more about the companies that plan to locate there.

“I know you’re not building on spec,” she said. “Who are you building to suit?… Who is your team? I see you have your plans, but I’m not seeing where your resources are and who you have to develop “the Silicon Valley of the east.”

“You’ve identified Luminati as a person to attract aviation and technology, but do you also have some other people?” she added.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Kent had stated that Daniel Preston, the owner of Luminati Aerospace, the original proposed buyer of the property who brought CAT on board, would still be working with CAT to attract prospective tenants to the site, despite Mr. Preston’s lengthy list of recent legal and financing difficulties that have made him a pariah in Riverhead.

Mr. Kent said Mr. Preston’s role will be “controlled and limited,” and added that CAT honored the town’s request to make Luminati a “silent non-voting member of CAT,” but added that Mr. Preston is expected to “attract other entrepreneurs to the project.”

“Our success does not rest upon him,” he added.

Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she would also like to see updated letters from CAT’s financiers acknowledging that they are still backing their development plan.

“I’m happy to hear all the people from the qualified and eligible hearing are still committed to come, and I thank them for their patience,” said Ms. Giglio.

“I didn’t see anything here that was a casino or a megamall — these ares some of the things that have been said that should never have been said and once it’s out there, it goes like wildfire throughout the community,” said Town Councilman Tim Hubbard.

An aerial view of CAT's proposed development plan for EPCAL
An aerial view of CAT’s proposed development plan for EPCAL

Mr. Kent said Triple Five has no plans to build a casino or a megamall at EPCAL.

In its contract to purchase the property, CAT pledged to build at least one million square feet of commercial and industrial space in the next five years and spend no less than $1 million to improve the runways there.

The website RiverheadLOCAL, through a freedom of information request from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) filed by former Riverhead Councilwoman Barbara Blass, in June made public a 19-page proposal for 10 million square feet of development along the runways at the property.

The developers presented a six-page version of that proposal to the town board at the work session, which contains six separate maps of the EPCAL property showing existing conditions, Riverhead town’s proposed subdivision of the property, and their proposed development.

Mr. Kent pointed out that the town’s proposed 50-lot subdivision contained lots throughout the developable portion of the site, while CAT’s plan clusters the buildings alongside the two runways, moving taxiways to the outside of the runways, adjacent to the buildings.

Mr. Kent said that clustering the development along the runways “allows for a tremendous amount of preservation of grasslands.”

Landscape architect Laura Schwanof of GEI Consultants, who worked with CAT on the plan, said the DEC had requested that the wildlands be managed specifically for the benefit of the short-eared owl and the tiger salamander, with a culvert underneath the 10,000-foot-runway for migrating salamanders. She said DEC representatives were primarily concerned with protecting grasslands on the site.

She pointed out that many of the woodlands on the portion of the property to be acquired by CAT were actually evergreen trees that had been planted in rows by former owners of the property, which is different from the native pitch pine and oak habitat in much of the pine barrens, including a western section of the property that the town’s IDA will retain ownership of.

CAT’s plans show that they will allow 507 acres of grassland to remain, and would create or maintain 109 acres of grassland.

Mr. Kent said CAT would likely work with a non-profit organization to manage the grasslands, perhaps turning title to those lands over to a non-profit.

Mr. Kent said the 10 million square feet of development is the maximum amount of development possible.

“This is showing a full buildout, which is going to take time,” he said. “We need to study the full buildout. That’s how we determine our impact. We don’t want to segment this.”

“You said it isn’t good for misinformation to get out,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent. “We have the huge responsibility of protecting the town, and quite frankly, I feel like we really have been in the dark, and that’s not good.”

“I think it’s been asked and answered,” countered Councilman Tim Hubbard. “You don’t own the property, and it’s difficult to get something done with the tenants until you have ownership of the property. That’s how business works. If you’re having conversations you’re not willing to disclose, I’ll take you at your word for that.”


Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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