Demolition is underway on two buildings in the heart of downtown Riverhead, a project being undertaken by the town to open up access from Main Street to the riverfront.
The former Swezey’s Home Furnishings Building was slated to be the first building taken down, followed by an adjacent building that had for several years been the home of Twin Forks Bicycles, which closed last year when the town purchased the properties to make way for the park.
Riverhead is planning to turn the area into a pedestrian-focused Town Square, with public gathering and event spaces, splash fountains and a playground. The project will also open up a view of the facade of the recently renovated iconic Suffolk Theater straight through to the riverfront.
The town began applying for grants for this project under the leadership of former Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, and in February of 2020, the town announced it had received an $800,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corporation. The Long Island Science Center also received a $775,000 grant to redevelop the site of the building that had been the main Swezey’s department store, as a new state-of-the-art science education center.
Swezey’s closed in 2003, after which the brick buildings that had housed a department store frequented by generations of Riverhead residents fell into disrepair, eventually becoming uninhabitable.
In May of this year, the town purchase 117 East Main Street, the site of the former Swezey’s Furniture Annex, for $1.25 million; 121 East Main Street, the site of Twin Forks Bicycles, for $950,00; and 127 East Main Street, the site of the Craft’D cocktail bar, for $2.65 million.
The first two buildings are slated to be demolished, while the town plans “extensive renovation, through a private sector partnership,” for the Craft’d building, according to the town.
The town board has committed to bond up to $5.5 million for the project.
The demolition work is being done by J. Petrocelli Construction, which has been involved in several downtown projects, including the Hyatt Place and the Long Island Aquarium, in a $965,000 contract with the town.
Also this week, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced the town has received two Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization grants totaling $93,000 to enhance lighting throughout downtown.
The grants will be used to update and enhance the lighting in the alleyway that connects the First Street parking lot and downtown Main Street, in between the Suffolk Theater on the west and the Woolworth Building (which now houses Maximus Health + Fitness) to the east, with a new “artistic themed light design,” according to the town, as well as to update and enhance the electrical system and upgrade existing light fixtures with replacement LED lamp heads at Grangebel Park, which the town is hoping will help enhance public art projects like the Reflextions exhibit on view there this summer.
“The project will be a significant safety and aesthetic upgrade over the current lighting which is poor and not capable of satisfactorily lighting the alleyway,” said Ms. Aguiar. “Ensuring public safety during the evening is a priority for the Town Board. Safer pedestrian passage through our downtown will keep our residents and visitors continuing to come to Downtown Riverhead to experience all of the different events and amenities our town has to offer.”
Ms. Aguiar thanked Congressman Lee Zeldin for getting the the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers on board to work out flood mitigation measures to protect the Town Square and Main Street from flooding into the next century.
The Army Corps completed a Flood Plain Management Study in 2020 at a cost of $140,000, which was matched by $40,000 of the Empire State Development Corporation funding for the Town Square.
“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,” said Mr. Zeldin “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.”
“Downtown Riverhead is drenched in history, and it has a wonderful environmental and aesthetic asset in the Peconic River,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. “Once the Town Square is completed, it will open up and welcome the community to the riverfront. It will be a celebration of the downtown area, and the importance of communal spaces.”
“The new Town Square will perfectly frame the 1933 Art-Deco Suffolk Theater,” said Suffolk Theater Owner Robert Castaldi. “With the construction of the new Town Square commencing, the Suffolk Theater will become a focal point, allowing patrons to visit downtown, to have dinner or a cocktail before a show. We are excited to collaborate on the Town Square programming to ensure a wide variety of performances in both locations.”