Vintage Square is back, this time with $200 million in AFL-CIO-backed funding and an expanded development proposal for two sites in downtown Riverhead — on Railroad Avenue and East Main Street.
The new plan includes 250 dwelling units above retail shops on the south side of Main Street on the block opposite the Suffolk Theatre — in addition to retail shops, 150 dwelling units and a garage that will park 750 cars on the two square blocks between Railroad and Court streets.
Developer John Burke presented plans to town and county officials, labor leaders and others today at a luncheon meeting at Diggers Restaurant and Pub on West Main Street.
"This is a great opportunity for this town to move forward," Burke said. "It is unprecedented revitalization and refurbishment of the entire town."
The four elected officials in attendance — County Legislator Ed Romaine, Councilman John Dunleavy, Councilman James Wooten and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio — all expressed support for the project as a provider of jobs, workforce housing and parking.
In brief remarks to the group, Romaine and Dunleavy both talked about how much a movie theater is needed and wanted in Riverhead. The Vintage proposal includes a multi-screen theater on the block between Cedar and Osborn avenues.
"Right now people, especially seniors, have to travel too far to see a first-run movie," Dunleavy said. "We need a movie theater in Riverhead."
Dunleavy, Wooten and Giglio all said they support developing new workforce housing in Riverhead. About 20 percent of the units would be designated workforce housing, said Long Islans Housing Partnership director Diana Weir, whose organization is ready to work with the developer.
Burke said afterward a new "qualified and eligible sponsor" application from Vintage Group is "imminent." Vintage had previously obtained Q&E status from the town, but it expired in December. Supervisor Sean Walter rejected Wooten and Dunleavy's request at that time to hold a special board meeting for the purpose of voting on extending the Vintage Q&E designation. Walter said then he did not want to "risk screwing up a deal that's so close to coming together." Though he would not name names last December, Walter was referring to negotiations between developer Ron Parr and Apollo Real Estate for the sale of the former Woolworth building site to Parr, who wants to build a multiplex theater there. Those negotiations are ongoing and the deal is viable, Walter said this week.
Walter did not attend the luncheon meeting at Diggers today.
With at least three board members supporting Burke's plans, a Q&E hearing on the new Vintage plan should be held in the near future. The Q&E designation is not necessary to obtain financing, Burke said, but it lets the world know the town backs the project.
The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust has committed to backing up to $200 million in financing for the Vintage plans, Burke said.
Stephanie Wiggins, executive vice president and chief investment officer of the trust, was present at today's meeting and said the trust, which she described as a fixed income mutual fund with net assets of $4 billion, provides "developers with vision, such as Mr. Burke, with competitive rates and terms." The trust specializes in construction-related mortgage-backed securities and has financed the construction of more than 100,000 housing units across the country. Its activity helps spur job growth, which benefits the members of its affiliated unions, she said, noting that construction trades unemployment rates, at 15 to 21 percent, far eclipse the general unemployment rate hovering at 9 or 10 percent.
Wiggins said the trust would purchase the mortgages made by Washington D.C. funding company Love Funding. Josh Hausfeld, a vice president and loan originator at Love Funding, which he described as a 130-year-old investment bank that got its start making mortgage loans to Civil War veterans, also attended today's meeting.
"We are committed to roll up our sleeves to work with mortgage investment bankers like Josh to make sure the loan is closed, and then we purchase the mortgage securities," Wiggins said.
Burke said he has been working with Hausfeld and Wiggins for more than a year on the project. He said he'd asked town officials to "keep it secret" until he was ready to make a public presentation.
"Business isn't done in the media," Burke said in an interview. "Business is done in business."
Architectural renderings courtesy of Wiedersum Associates Architects.