The people of Riverhead have spoken. What do they want? A major movie theater to come to town. Residents, 3100 of them, signed a petition circulated by Calverton’s John Altadonna, who made his plea before the Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday, June 18, to a room filled nearly to capacity, dozens of whom seem to be on the same mission as Altadonna.
“If I had the time and the resources, I probably would have doubled that number,” he said of the petition, which asks the town board to forge a relationship with a major company to establish a local movie theater with an anchor restaurant.
The 74-year-old cited an attempt at bringing such a project to life at the former Walmart site on Route 58 within Riverhead Plaza, negotiations which town board member James Wooten said failed between Regal Cinemas and the plaza owners two years ago over the price per square footage. “That deal fell through prior to me coming into office,” explained Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. “The movie theater was not going to come in there. It was the choice of the movie chain itself.”
Altadonna said while the residents realized the town board could not force a retailer’s hand, it could “reach out and actively support a movie theater. The town is big enough and deserves a movie theater in town.”
The town board members, including Jens-Smith, said they are in support of such a project, with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio pointing to actions taken in supporting the former Riverhead Plaza theater project.
“We had put zoning in place that said we would allow a drive-through restaurant, so we incentivized the movie theater to come to the Walmart site, but the square footage of the site exceeded what he was permitted to do with the restaurant by 8500 square feet, so he would have had to chop off 8500 square feet of the Walmart and the ceilings would have to be raised to accommodate a theater, but the zoning is still on the table to allow a drive-through restaurant at the Walmart site if they could negotiate the lease,” Giglio said.
“We didn’t adopt it because we were saying, ‘Show us the contract and show us the lease, then we’ll allow you to have the drive-through restaurant,’ which is why nothing has happened at that site,” the councilwoman explained.
Town board member Tim Hubbard asked Altadonna to provide the board with a copy of his petition for future communications with major theater retailers and while Jens-Smith said there has been difficulty attracting such a project with an industry-wide expansion downturn, board member James Wooten said there may be renewed interest should the Regal/UA Hampton Bays theater close its doors and become a CVS pharmacy.
“There may be more of a desire right now for companies to relocate because there’s not one eight miles away,” said Wooten.