After years of languishing in its current, aging town hall on Howell Avenue, Riverhead Town will soon be moving its center of government into a shiny, relatively new building in the heart of downtown.
The Riverhead Town Board voted Aug. 2 to purchase the 36,000-square-foot former headquarters of the Suffolk County National Bank at 4-6 Second Street for $20 million, and to issue $1.5 million in bonds to pay for renovations there. The purchase also includes the downtown People’s United Bank branch, which will continue to lease that building, and a white house that was a former medical office that could now be used as the town historian’s office, along with a large parking lot.
The building is currently owned by the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation and is known as the Robert Entenmann Campus. It has served for several years as the corporate headquarters for the hospital, which are now being moved with the hospital’s recent purchase of Mercy High School, which is adjacent to the hospital.
The hospital announced July 27 that it would be using the funds generated by the sale for an expansion of its emergency room that is underway, along with women’s health services and expansion of its ambulatory services.
“We’re excited to partner with the Town of Riverhead to provide them this opportunity, and moreover, to help assist Riverhead in realizing its development and revitalization goals,” said PBMC Executive Director and President of the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation Amy Loeb. “As we look to the future, Peconic Bay Medical Center is devoted to continuing to develop and provide the community of Riverhead, and the entire East End, with a world-class facility that provides essential, next-level care.”
Members of the town board voted unanimously and enthusiastically to go ahead with the purchase, which is subject to a permissive referendum, at their Aug. 2 meeting.
“The catalyst for this project was to get our justice court into a safe and secure environment,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard, who has been working on the project. “We’re not in compliance with the Department of Justice.”
The cramped justice court is currently in the same building as the town’s also-overcrowded police station behind town hall, and it doesn’t meet numerous needs that are required by the New York State Office of Court Administration.”
“The Justice Court will move into this building and have a courtroom ready to function,” said Mr. Hubbard, referring to the current town board meeting room. “They won’t have to work in portable trailers. In the Justice Court now, you see boxes to the ceiling. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
The town had considered several options over the past few years for reconfiguring the properties it owns to accommodate the justice court, including building a new complex on their current location and renovating the former New York State Armory building on Route 58 that the state had given to the town years ago, as well as moving into the former KMart building, also on Route 58 in the same shopping center as the BJs wholesale club.
“The hospital property is kind of a home run in my eyes,” added Mr. Hubbard. “It’s pretty much move-in ready and it gets the justice court here faster than any other method we could do.”
Mr. Hubbard added that the People’s Bank branch would become an income-generating property for the town — it currently has a five year lease with two five-year options to renew.”
Councilman Bob Kern said that, while there were other interested potential buyers of the Entenmann building, the hospital wanted to see the town have it.
“This thing moved very fast, in a very professional, business-like way,” he said, adding that the income generated would make the bond payments “very close to net zero” for the town. He added that, given the recent spike in the price of building materials, if the town was to decide to build from scratch they’d be paying between $25 million and $28 million for a project that should cost $20 million.
Mr. Hubbard added that the white house that is part of the sale, which fronts on Griffing Avenue, would be a perfect office for Town Historian Georgette Case, whose office is currently piled floor to ceiling with historic materials.
“There’s also a beautiful showcase inside the main building where she could do rotating displays of historical articles from the town,” he added. “There’s so much to it. It’s very exciting.”
Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar pointed out that the building is centrally located between the new transit-oriented development to be constructed adjacent to the Riverhead train station and downtown, and has parking for nearly 300 cars and a generator so government could still function in a natural or man-made disaster.
“The entire Town Board is excited to make this announcement and take a concrete step toward realizing a long-held ambition of this town for a new town hall, with a facility that will house many of our departments in a modern and professional atmosphere” she said.