Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Revival At The River's Head

Reports Of Riverhead's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

With Riverhead's Empire Zone stimulating economic regeneration, developers chomping at the bit, and an influx of significant money from both public and private sources, downtown Riverhead seems poised on turning the corner from ghost town to hip town.

Virtually paralyzed by the big box stores springing up on the outskirts (Tanger outlets alone boasts 165 stores), a once thriving and now desolate "Main Street" (named, surprisingly enough, "Main Street") is about to come alive again, this according to plans envisioned both by Town officials, local residents and private developers.

"The area could be transformed into an entertainment and shopping destination within a few years if Town Council members approve any of three proposals bringing private investment to the town's renewal efforts," reports the New York Times. [SEE, A Plan To Revive Downtown Riverhead.]

One plan under consideration calls for replacing acres of parking lots on the riverfront with a finished esplanade, a plaza, green lawns, a man-made pond that would double as a winter ice rink, and 30,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurants and shops with 60 apartments above them.

On the north side of Main Street from the Suffolk Theatre east to East Avenue, the plan envisions a ground-floor specialty food market, a 14-screen multiplex movie theater on the second level and 100 apartments in the top two stories.

A second proposal extends beyond the revitalization district and focuses on the north side of Main Street, replacing most of the decaying riverfront on south Main Street with landscaping and parkland. Parking areas and some buildings north of Main Street would be replaced with about 500 townhouses and condominiums.

Still a third plan would feature a "festival marketplace" like New York City's South Street Seaport. It would have an ice-skating rink and amphitheater and an 8- to 11-screen multiplex on the riverfront, 336 residential apartments and 130,000 square feet of shops.

Newsday reports that the Town of Riverhead, which has had its ups and downs in terms of starting the ball rolling on downtown revitalization projects, "has a chance to set an example for other downtowns by negotiating a deal with a big-league private sector consortium." [SEE, Riverhead Revival.]

Indeed, if downtown Riverhead's renaissance does move forward, it will be that partnering of government, community, and the private sector that makes all the difference.

Of course, the rebirth of "Main Street" was preceded by years of gestation, with the "seed" originating in a visioning process begun in earnest in 2000 with the help of the Institute of Sustainable Development at Long Island University. [SEE Riverhead Vision 2020: An Evaluation of Community Action.]

It was not so much government officials or enterprising developers who got things started in Riverhead. It was grassroots, community-based organizing that rubbed two sticks together to kindle the flames of revitalization.

All over Long Island, from the shores of the Peconic to the vacant stores than line the "Main Streets" of Elmont, more and more people are sensing that cleaning our own house must begin at home. Local civic associations are begining to partner with community facilitators such as Sustainable Long Island and Vision Long Island, focusing on projects large and small, building, and rebuilding, community -- one block, one storefront, one person at a time.

Downtown Riverhead, with its dingy, age-worn and neglected Main Street is about to make a comeback. How are things looking on your hometown's "Main Street?"

So, what's the plan to revitalize your community's "downtown?" Not only do we want to know at The Community Alliance, we want to help turn today's community's vision into tomorrow's "Main Street" reality. E-mail us at
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Read Newsday's Editorial on Riverhead's Revival
SEE News12 Report

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