Town Hires Master Developer For Riverside Project

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The Southampton Town Board has selected the new “master developer” for the long-anticipated revitalization of the Riverside business district.

Board members unanimously voted last week to hire Renaissance Downtowns, a Nassau County real estate development firm, to guide the revitalization initiative.

“We are very excited about this—it’s an important first step in the revitalization of that area,” Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera said last Tuesday, after the board hired the firm. “So many people have worked on this for years and years and years—the economic development committee, in particular.

“I know Vince Taldone and Frank Zappone worked on this very hard, and we’re looking forward to working with Renaissance as a great partner on this,” she continued, referring to the president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association and the deputy town supervisor.

Ms. Scalera said that Renaissance Downtowns’ pitch stood out among the three presented to the town because of its efforts at marketing the company’s projects and outreach to the communities surrounding the commercial district, which runs north, east and south from the Riverside traffic circle. She added that part of the company’s pitch was that it would open a storefront in Riverside as soon as the contracts are in place, and that one of its employees will move into the neighborhood.

The company is also adept at using social media and crowd sourcing to engage members of the community on a very interactive level.

“It’s a very comprehensive approach,” Ms. Scalera said. “They engage in all aspects of the community and try to get a complete community buy-in to what is going on. That’s what we think is needed.”

The next step will be for Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s office, land management officials and Renaissance Downtowns to work out a contract agreement for the development initiative—a complex process that could take several months.

The contract approved last week with Renaissance will have no financial cost for the town or taxpayers, according to town officials.

The next agreement between Renaissance and the town will lay out binding guidelines for zoning requirements, design standards and septic load limits, and also break down the incentives that will be offered to the owners of blighted properties that are targeted for redevelopment.

It will then be up to Renaissance to rally the owners of the dozens of properties in the commercial district and identify development possibilities with enough return on investment to spur redevelopment. The company’s response to the town’s request for qualifications touts mixed-use planning, pedestrian-friendly commercial development, centralized development around “anchor uses” businesses that draw customers and the creation of open public spaces.

Much of the early stages of the planning will also involve numerous community forums and meetings with stakeholders in the area to be revitalized, according to the company prospectus. All costs during the planning stage will be incurred by Renaissance.

“The outreach and marketing that Renaissance is known for, we think, will be a very effective tool,” Ms. Scalera said.

Renaissance is already leading downtown revitalization redevelopment projects in Hempstead, Huntington Station and Glen Cove that are estimated to generate more than $4 billion in investment in those communities.

A committee empaneled by Ms. Throne-Holst, an amalgam of community and business leaders, as well as town officials, has been working on various options for overhauling the hamlet’s business district for more than three years. Earlier this year, the town secured a grant that will go toward building a footbridge across the Peconic River, an estimated $1.15 million project that will connect the Riverside waterfront to Riverhead’s downtown business district. A walking path along the river is also envisioned.

Renaissance’s task will be to come up with a blueprint for the resurrection of the blighted commercial properties that spur east and north from the Riverside traffic circle at the western end of Flanders Road. Foremost in that effort will be identifying which of the dozens of redevelopment considerations should be undertaken by the town, crafting a strategy for overcoming the numerous hurdles to redevelopment, and setting up the zoning and design guidelines that would ultimately steer the effort.

The final product is foreseen as a mixed-use patchwork of new development that is focused on a pedestrian-friendly hamlet center area. It would be constructed on dozens of private and a handful of publicly owned properties, and coordinated by Renaissance.

Renaissance was one of three firms to respond to the town’s request for qualifications. A proposal was also submitted by The Southampton Inn, which is owned by Dede Gotthelf. Ms. Gotthelf had pitched plans for a hotel and convention center along the Riverside waterfront more than a decade ago. Although that plan fell through, and most of her land was acquired by Suffolk County in 2011 for preservation, it was the impetus for the vision for a “Riverside Hamlet Center” and spurred the formation of the economic development committee.

The third proposal was submitted by VHB Engineering, Surveying and Landscape Architecture of Hauppauge.

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