Vintage Group unveils newer, bigger plans for Riverhead

VINTAGE GROUP COURTESY PHOTO | Vintage Village on the Peconic, as show here in an artist rendering, would stretch east from where the former West Marine store was on East Main Street.

The Vintage Group development team is back, with new investors and a bulked-up $200 million project that now includes shops and residences on the south side of East Main Street in downtown Riverhead, as well as a multiplex movie theater, apartments, stores and a parking garage on Railroad Avenue.

And at least three Town Board members, council members Jodi Giglio, Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, say they support the plan.

“This is a great opportunity for this town to move forward,” said John Burke, Vintage Group president. “This is a wonderful opportunity that has never presented itself before. We are talking about an entire refurbishment and revitalization of the entire town.”

But the project must overcome a lot of hurdles. Vintage Group had previously proposed a multiplex, stores, apartments and a parking garage on Railroad Avenue, and had received a qualified and eligible sponsor designation from the previous Town Board, a designation required in order to buy town land in an urban renewal area. That designation expired in 2010 and was not renewed by the current board.

Mr. Burke’s old and new projects call for the acquisition of the recently built town parking lot on Railroad Avenue, which is designed to provide parking for the courts.

His previous plan called for all of the funding to be paid by one investor, developer George Heinlein’s Heinlein Capital Ventures. The investors in the new project include the ALF-CIO Housing Investment Trust, which has net assets of $4 billion and has invested in 100,000 units of housing over its 46 years, according to its chief investment officer, Stephanie Wiggins, who appeared at a press conference Vintage Group held Tuesday at Digger’s restaurant to unveil the new plans.

“We are a fixed income mutual fund that specializes in construction-related, mortgage-backed securities, which means that we work with mortgage bankers who underwrite and service projects and we buy the securities from them. We are the end-loan investor,” she said.

The Trust has a goal of creating 15,000 jobs by investing in development projects, she said. The Vintage Group’s project is expected to generate 750 jobs, she said.

Vintage Group’s new proposal would call for development of a multiplex on the site of the town’s parking lot west of Cedar Street on Railroad Avenue. On top of the multiplex would be 150 units of housing, according to Richard Wiedersum, the project architect. Vintage Group would have to acquire that property from the town.

The land east of Cedar Street, which currently has stores on it, also would have to be acquired, as Vintage Group plans to built a 750-car parking garage with stores and offices. Cedar Street would become a pedestrian walkway and there would be an overhead walkway connecting the two structures, Mr. Wiedersum added.

The Railroad Avenue project is called Vintage Square.

The other project, called Vintage Village on the Peconic, would be located in downtown Riverhead and would call for 250 housing units as well as a retail component. It would be built on land that Vintage Group also would need to acquire on the south side of Main Street, facing the Suffolk Theatre.

A group called Apollo Real Estate Advisors attempted to purchase the same buildings on the south side of Main Street for a similar project several years ago but was unable to.

Meanwhile, Vintage Group will have competition in trying to bring a multiplex to town, as developer Ron Parr is seeking to attract a movie company to the former Woolworth building, which he would buy from Apollo if he’s able to get a movie theater company, Supervisor Sean Walter has been saying for months.
Mr. Walter, who said he was not aware of the press event Tuesday, said he wasn’t against the Vintage plans.

“I don’t know what the whole thing is all about,” he said. “Here’s my thought, and here’s what I told Burke…When you own property, I’ll be your best friend. And if Mr. Burke goes into contract on some of these properties, or owns properties, I’m going to be very much in favor of pushing his project along.”

He said he has been working with Mr. Parr because that developer had already put his money into downtown with building the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts School on East Main Street, to the tune of $10 million.

Mr. Dunleavy, Mr. Wooten and Ms. Giglio all attended the press conference at Digger’s.

Mr. Dunleavy said a project like Vintage Square is needed in order to bring foot traffic to downtown and Railroad Avenue.

He said senior citizens keep asking him where the movie theater is, because the nearest large theater is in Holtsville.

“They have to travel 40 miles to Holtsville,” he said, and by the time they get back, it’s 10:30 or 11 p.m. and they don’t want to do that.”

Mr. Wooten said the plan Vintage Group is proposing, housing and a movie theater, has been done successfully elsewhere.

“It’s not rocket science, it’s been done all over,” he said.

“This is going to be a draw for Riverhead,” Ms. Giglio said. “People are going to want to come here and not just stay for the day and go home.”

Also present was Joshua Hausfeld of Love Funding, a Federal Housing Administration lender that he said frequently works with the federal Housing and Urban Development Administration, which he believes could help the Vintage Square project.

“We got interested in this particular transaction because it has all the hot-button topics that HUD likes to see to approve a deal: work force housing, affordable housing, revitalization, job creation and mass transit oriented development,” Mr. Hausfeld said.

Mr. Burke said a percentage of the housing units would be set aside for work force or affordable housing.

He said he’s been working with Ms. Wiggins and Mr. Hausfeld for more than a year, and has spoken with Town Board members as well during that time, but asked them not to speak publicly about his plans.

He said he decided to go public now because “Now we’ve got everything in place.

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