Michael Butler and his wife launched an environmentally sustainable eco-lodge in the Costa Rican rainforest 13 years ago, so opening 19 units of affordable housing on East Main Street in Riverhead doesn’t seem quite as daunting.
“That’s why this doesn’t seem as crazy, right?” he said
The Sag Harbor resident and co-founder of Playa Nicuesa in Central America is about to open up applications for apartments at downtown’s former Woolworth building, which was purchased a year and a half ago by Woolworth Revitalization LLC for over $2 million.
Mr. Butler, managing partner of Woolworth Revitalization LLC, hopes the units will be ready for occupancy by the end of the year.
The apartments, for which a lottery will be held, are the second large investment in recent years in Riverhead’s downtown stock of housing, in particular work force housing. Peconic Avenue’s 52-unit Summerwind Square is 95 percent full at this point, according to its developer, Ray Dickhoff.
“It’s got all the components,” said Mr. Butler, pointing to downtown. “The river is great. Even if you look at the time since we’ve been here, the bike shop has opened up. This nice place across the street, Vines and Hops, has opened up. You can see things happening.”
After its interior was gutted, new drainage tanks were installed and a new roof put in place, the former Woolworth building welcomed its first tenant, Maximus Health & Fitness, in May. Goldberg’s Famous Bagels followed in mid-August. Mr. Butler said 2,000 square feet of commercial space fronting Main Street are still available for rent there.
Expected to cost about $7.5 million in total, the project received $800,000 in federal and county grants, as well as tax abatements granted by the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency.
Mr. Butler explained Tuesday that those subsidies — which will keep rents affordable and stable for tenants — make the up-front capital costs worth it.
“That’s why these programs exist,” he said. “If you’re doing a project like this, and doing it right, these programs make it worthwhile. The new roof alone cost $250,000.”
The project isn’t the only new housing in the works for downtown. On Monday, the developers of Blue River Estates, a 48-unit apartment complex planned for West Main Street, informed the IDA that it would proceed as an affordable housing project instead of the market-rate units originally proposed.
Applications for the Woolworth building units will be processed through the Long Island Housing Partnership, which will verify applicants’ income statements and conduct the lottery, as well as market the property. Eligible applicants’ annual earnings must between 50 and 80 percent of Long Island’s median household income.
The nonprofit housing partnership is playing a similar role for Avalon Court in Melville, New Village in Patchogue and other developments.
Jennifer Appel, the organization’s general counsel and program advisor, said it has received two applications since starting to market the Woolworth property last week. The deadline for lottery applications is Oct. 30. Applications for any apartments still available after the lottery is held will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Visit woolworthapartments.com for application information.
Caption: The retail spaces on the first floor of the Woolworth building. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)