Southampton Town and Suffolk County officials are partnering with civic leaders in Riverside in an effort to open up access to one of the town’s most valuable but mostly hidden attractions: the Peconic River.
Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, explained on Monday night that in Southampton Town, the waterway is hardly visible behind mostly densely wooded land. He added that if walking trails could be cleared, they could offer visitors and residents a reason to spend more time in the area and, down the road, patronize a revitalized Riverside business district—the group’s ultimate goal.
The civic submitted a pre-application in the last month for a grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council, which could help cover some of the costs of a proposed $1,145,000 pedestrian bridge that would connect downtown Riverhead, near the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center, with 14 acres of woods that the county purchased across the river in Riverside for $2.4 million in 2011. The county land was originally part of a larger, 20-acre property owned by Dede Gotthelf, who wanted to build 98-room hotel and conference center on the site.
Mr. Taldone and Brad Bender, a civic board member and a candidate for the Southampton Town Board this fall, explained that they estimated the price of the walking bridge with the help of Suffolk County Department of Public Works employees. It is yet to be determined, however, how large the potential grant would be.
“We have to market what we have, and that’s the natural waterfront,” Mr. Taldone said. “We are looking for every possible way to attract investors. It’s park development, but it’s also economic development in a very big way.”
Mr. Taldone said state officials would review the pre-applications and encourage competitive applicants to submit the final application for the grant, which is due in mid-August.
In conjunction with the civic, Southampton Town has also applied for a $26,440 Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization Grant to create a walking trail from Flanders Road to the Peconic River, with the hope of connecting it to the foot bridge. The town estimated that the project would cost about $50,000, and committed to allocating $20,000 toward that total. The civic would contribute about $500.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said the river is about 100-feet wide near the aquarium. He designed a digital model of the foot bridge to give the attendees of Monday night’s civic meeting some idea of what it could look like. Still, he and the civic leaders stressed that they would solicit input from the community on what the final design would be, down to the materials used.
“You have people coming together—it’s exciting,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
Last month, he presented the civic his vision of the revitalized downtown Riverside, a plan that is contingent on a major infrastructure upgrade, namely the installment of a sewer system that could support new development. He said he expects the representatives from Camp, Dresser & McKee, a consulting firm based in Massachusetts, to present the results of a study in September that looks at the feasibility of establishing such a sewer system. The system is expected to cost millions of dollars.
“I think it’s a key element to the whole revitalization plan,” Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said, of the pedestrian bridge and walking trail. “I think it’s all realistic. It’s all readily achievable.”