Gratitude was on the minds of elected officials as they reflected on the many first Thanksgivings about to be celebrated in a brand-new artist and workforce housing complex, Peconic Crossing, in downtown Riverhead, where a ribbon cutting ceremony was held Monday morning.
Many layers of government, from New York State to Suffolk County to Riverhead Town, all participated to make the $18 million, 45-unit project, built by Conifer Realty, a regional affordable housing developer, a success. Representatives of many state and regional agencies had a lot to share about their work on this project, and how it fits into new thinking on workforce housing across the state.
But the biggest buzz in the room at the event was the first floor public art gallery space, where the opening ceremony was held, and where an inaugural show by Mattituck artist Gina Gilmour also opened Monday morning.
The gallery, to be curated by East End Arts, will have an ongoing series of three-month shows by local artists, including residents of Peconic Crossing, where preference was given to artists in the selection process.
But, with more than 900 applicants applying to rent the 45 below-market-rate apartments in the building (starting at $976/month), leaders acknowledged that there is much more work to do.
Funding for the project included $4.5 million in Disaster Recovery Funds from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (the former building at the site, the Long Island Science Center, was damaged during Superstorm Sandy); $5.78 million in tax credit equity from Redstone Partners, $2.8 million from the Community Development Trust; $200,000 from Community Development Corporation of Long Island (CDCLI), construction financing of more than $8 million from Capital One, $350,000 from Suffolk County workforce housing infrastructure and $275,000 from the Empire State Development Corp., along with property tax abatements from Riverhead Industrial Development Agency, said CDCLI President and CEO Gwen O’Shea, who emceed the ceremony.
“I’ve seen Conifer’s work across the state, and they’re so responsive to the needs of the community,” said New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul at the ceremony. “It eliminates a lot of conflict, and they never sacrifice the quality of life or the charm of a community.”
She added that the building highlights the sense of place and identity of downtown Riverhead, which is being lost in so many communities around the country. When revitalizing a downtown area, she said, the key is to bring in affordable housing.
“That’s the secret sauce,” she said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pointed out the importance of regional planning efforts, including the extension of extra track eastward on the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road line to Riverhead, in creating thriving downtowns.
Betsy Mollow of New York State Homes & Community Renewal, began her work at the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. She said that 1,340 rental units were destroyed by Sandy in Suffolk County, and since then, 1,600 rental units have been built.
“Riverhead is bustling,” she said, adding that affordable and storm-resilient housing, like this building, will be the key to restabilizing the community.
“To be in the halls here, and smell Thanksgiving cooking, that would be awesome,” she said.
Long Island Association CEO Kevin Law touted the project as the “first waterfront affordable housing” on Long Island, and said it is part of a new effort to build quality workforce housing, echoed in other projects like Wyandanch Rising and Wincoram Commons, that he hopes will help change the stigma of what communities perceive affordable housing to be.
“It’s important to get the business community behind you,” he said of affordable housing projects. “Housing is critically important to business.”
“Public support is important, especially in high cost areas,” said Brian Dowling of the Community Development Trust. “We value long-term stability.”
With so many artists now living under one roof, new East End Arts Executive Director Shawn Hirst took a minute to talk about the synergy the artists will be able to feel when they can find professional development, workshops and a community of artists gathered just a few blocks east on Main Street.
She shared Ms. Gilmour’s artist statement about her work:
“Since early childhood, art making has been for me a means of processing my experience; a way to celebrate and to mourn, to rail against the intolerable, and to navigate the mysterious.”
We look forward to working with the artists living here to navigate the intolerable and the mysterious as well,” said Ms. Hirst.