Investor scales back plan for former middle school

Investor scales back plan for former middle school

WOONSOCKET – The Central Falls-based developer working to renovate the former Woonsocket Middle School property plans to invest significantly less money in the project than originally stated, according to city officials.

Tai-O Group submitted a proposal for the property last year with the intent to build 165 two-bedroom apartments in the sprawling 102-year-old building, paying $470,000 for the lot and investing $20 million to $25 million. Plans for the property included a gym, a theater and outdoor dining facilities, surrounded by green space, and complemented by a boat launch accessing the Blackstone River.

On Tuesday, City Council members acknowledged that the expected investment has now decreased to $13 million, and that the number of expected units had dropped to 110.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said she was uncomfortable with the changes, saying “$7 (million) to $10 million less in improvements to that building is significant. Legally how does that affect a response to a request for a proposal?”

Councilor Christopher Beauchamp also expressed concerns.

“I don’t remember seeing this go down to $13 million,” Beauchamp said. “It seems like we started at a number that was twice this. I’m concerned where the Tai-O Group is going here.”

But City Council President Daniel Gendron said the council has had ongoing talks with the investor regarding adjustments to the plan.

“The number of units is less than what they originally thought could fit into the building,” Gendron said. “I’m comfortable with how we’ve been kept up to speed. This is where I expected us to be.”

A developer experienced with major rehabilitation of historic structures, Tai-O renovated the Carol Cable Mill in Pawtucket, and recently completed a 190-unit apartment complex in Central Falls known as M Residential. In Woonsocket, the group plans to build luxury units geared toward renters in their 20s and 30s, a project COO Jevon Chan has said would see the first renters moving into the building by 2019.

Working as Woonsocket Park Place LLC, Tai-O plans to renovate the 212,000-square-foot space at 357 Park Place with the help of historic tax credits. The building has been empty since city students moved to Woonsocket’s new middle school complex in 2010.

On Tuesday, councilors were slated to vote on a tax stabilization plan for the project, establishing that the assessment on the building during the first two years of construction would remain $9,182,300. A tax stabilization ordinance on the docket also provided “not-to exceed” figures for Tai-O’s tax burden through the 12th year of ownership.

But City Solicitor John DeSimone said the document needs adjustments, and recommended tabling the issue to the council’s next meeting.

Another ordinance, establishing a maximum building permit fee for the developer at 50 percent of what would otherwise be charged was unanimously passed by the board. Councilor Denise Sierra was not present for the meeting.

Baldelli-Hunt said she had not been briefed on the proposed changes. Planning Director N. David Bouley, who DeSimone and councilors said is most familiar with the project, did not attend the meeting.

Councilor James Cournoyer responded, “Your director is the one who put this on the docket. If he hasn’t kept you up to speed I don’t know what to tell you.”

Cournoyer said he was also aware of the plan modifications and expected ongoing changes.

“It was estimates, just like the water treatment plant,” Cournoyer said of Tai-O’s original proposal. “There were concerns about parking.”

Tai-O was one of two investors competing for the property last year during a selection process that saw the city’s two government factions at odds. Baldelli-Hunt and members of city administration had made clear they favored an alternate proposal by Illinois-based company Hawthorne Group to build a development for retirees in the former school, but the mayor was met with resistance at the start of last August when she tried to execute terms that would have given the multi-million dollar investor exclusive rights on the lot. A request for proposals put out that month brought back bids by both Hawthorne and Tai-O, with the administration’s favored bidder offering to pay $500,000 for the property and to invest $50 million.

On Tuesday, Baldelli-Hunt cited legal concerns.

“Part of the response could be what made you chose this particular group,” she said. “I’m uncomfortable.”

Beauchamp said he favored the developer who planned to spend $50 million or more, “but I was in the minority.”

Comments

This real estate group has had a few successes in other areas of our country, but have also left many vacant spaces behind - I hope all invested in this venture due their due diligence and its a win for the city and for TAO - would love to see life come back to Park Place

Oh well, 2 great development projects shut down by the zoning board, and now the Tai-O group cuts their redevelopment project of the old Middle School in half?

No comments?

I guess it's business as usual on the zoning board and the "New" city council...

Onward and upward with the 65+ Million dollar water treatment in the clouds!

FYI, thank you Mr. Michaud for the zoning board ruling and the property of ledge you sold to the city for the Water Treatment Plant in the clouds, without your help, where would we be?

Nice Job guys and girls.... :(

SAD.