An agreement to bring a multi-screen movie theater to downtown Riverhead – for years, if not decades, an unfulfilled dream for town residents and politicians alike – is reportedly just around the corner.
According to former councilman Vic Prusinowski, now a broker with Prudential Commercial Properties of Medford, developer Ron Parr is about two weeks from signing an agreement to purchase the former Woolworth's building on East Main St. from a subsidiary of the Apollo Group, which bought the still vacant structure from Sheldon Gordan’s Riverhead Enterprises in April 2006.
The Ronkokoma-based Parr Organization, in turn, would then demolish the building and “build to suit” a new structure, part of which would be leased to the Regal Entertainment Group of Knoxville, Tenn., one of the nation’s largest movie theater operators, with 537 multiplexes in 37 states.
Another part of the building would be leased to a tenant that Prusinowski declined to identify but described as “major,” which, he said, has already inked a contract to lease space once the Parr/Apollo transaction is consummated.
In addition, Prusinowski said, two other potential tenants – one which he described as a “unique retail operation,” the other a restaurant – have been involved in the deal for months.
These tenants, he said, would occupy approximately 2,000 square feet each on the western side of the new building, abutting The Suffolk Theatre. No other buildings would have to be purchased, he said.
“We’re about two weeks away from having this contract signed,” Prusinowski said Thursday, referring to the deal between Parr and Area Properties, an Apollo subsidiary. “We have everything lined up except for a concrete commitment from Regal.
"They’ve come to terms with the business deal and now they’re just reviewing the numbers, and that’s going to take a couple of weeks,” he said.
“Once they finalized that, we should be entering into a contract,” he said, adding that a press conference would then be scheduled to fill in all of the details.
He emphasized, however, that he didn't want to commit to a specific time period. "A deal is not a deal until we have a signed contract," he said.
Prusinowski, who served four four-year terms on the Riverhead Town Board in the 1980s and 1990s and whose name had often be bandied about in the past as a possible candidate for supervisor on the Republican line, was quick to praise Supervisor Sean Walter for his help in moving the deal along.
“He’s been instrumental in putting this thing together,” Prusinowski said of Walter, a fellow Republican. “I’ve needed him on a few occasion, and he’s come through big time.”
Asked Thursday about the pending transaction, Walter would only say that he’s "cautiously optimistic" that everything would fall into place. At a December press conference to celebrate the announcement of a new downtown restaurant, Walter hinted that a major announcement would be coming soon.
This is not the first time the Parr Organization has expressed an interest in a developing a downtown movie theater. In 2004, it submitted a proposal to buy The Suffolk Theatre, owned at the time by the town, and to turn it into an 11-screen multiplex.
The Suffolk Theatre was ultimately sold to Castle Restoration, which has yet to open the performing arts center that it promised to have ready more than two years ago. Construction is currently under way.
It would also not be Parr’s first foray downtown. Three years ago, Parr built what is now the Culinary Arts Institute on East Main St., which he leases to Suffolk County Community College.
Parr is expected to pay far less for the former Woolworth's building than the $4.2 million that Apollo had paid Riverhead Enterprises for the property in 2006.
At the time, Apollo more or less said that it had deliberately overpaid for the property as a sign of good faith in furthering the major plans it had for downtown under the master development agreement it had signed with then supervisor Phil Cardinale.
As it turned out, the former Woolworth building was the only property Apollo was to purchase downtown before pulling out of its agreement with the town several years ago.