Each year, thousands head to Newport for WaterFire, an event that seeks to transform the downtown area with sparkling firelight on the water, music, and a celebration of local restaurants and businesses.
According to the site, WaterFire in Providence includes over 80 bonfires, with torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and music playing as visitors stroll around the area. Since it was created in 1994, WaterFire has brought over 10 million visitors to Providence, the site said, revitalizing the city.
On Thursday, Bryan DeLuca, general manager of the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, said he would like to spark a similar program, "River Fire," downtown on and around the Peconic Riverfront.
"This is the chance for Riverhead to be the only one on Long Island to offer this," he said. "It would be a great point of interest for locals and tourists."
The "multi-sensory" event would include music, firelight, and art would revitalize downtown, DeLuca said.
"In Providence, it transformed the whole city into a public art forum," DeLuca said.
The wood fires, DeLuca said, are contained in "braziers," which would be set up in the Peconic and along the banks, on the grass, and also, possibly, in downtown Riverhead alleys to light the way.
Sponsors could be enlisted to help support the project, he said.
The event would feature a ceremonial lighting of the fires, DeLuca added.
The Riverhead Business Improvement District, DeLuca said, is looking to become actively involved in the project.
The fire pits would be set up along the Riverfront and into Grangebel Park.
The event would help bring foot traffic to downtown Riverhead and to area restaurants and shops, DeLuca said. Other cities worldwide that have embraced the concept have seen "documented financial success," DeLuca said, with up to 100,000 visitors coming a night to see the flickering flames reflected on the water.
In addition, a contest could be held to have local artists design some of the braziers that hold the fire, DeLuca said. Famed local artists could be asked to judge the entries, he said.
Other areas that have their own programs include Houston, Kansas City, the United Kingdom and even Singapore, DeLuca said.
The goal would be to seek grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and others; DeLuca asked that the town sign on as a primary applicant for the grants with East End Arts.
Cost of future marketing would be paid by the BID, he said, with the BID buying cords of wood and enlisting volunteers to stoke the fires.
"There's an excitement level here, to have the only one on Long Island," DeLuca said. "We have the ideal situation here."
Initially, the town could start out with 10 or 20 braziers and add more as interest flourishes, he said.
The town could also begin with three or four River Fire events per year; Providence has one a month. The cost for each firepit typically runs from $2000 to $4000, DeLuca said, but Riverhead has had a prototype made for $1000, with each additional slated to cost $600.
Councilman John Dunleavy questioned the cost of police protection for a series of additional special events.
"We are talking about driving traffic and doing something very unique for the Town of Riverhead," DeLuca said, adding that sponsorships would help fund costs.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and the board agreed to apply for the grants and move forward.