Bristol businesses to get new lease on old school buildings

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walley schl-cover3Although the Town of Bristol has a desire to turn the Byfield, Reynolds and Walley school buildings into an integrated center for arts and business incubator space, the Town Council decided on Wednesday night to let that happen organically with its current and future tenants, rather than allow a corporate entity to develop and manage the town owned properties.

In response to a request for lease proposals for the three buildings, the Town Council listened to those proposals from current tenants who lease space in the former school buildings.

Those who spoke described their satisfaction with the space and their desire to continue to remain in the buildings, some, like the Bristol Theater Company, “forever.”

In describing a proposed use by Byfield Art and Design Group (BADG, pronounced badge), Renee Soto implored the Town Council to continue its current lease process to help artists and entrepreneurs grow and work together in Bristol.

“It is what artists, designers and musicians do naturally,” she said of the cooperative environment. “We see no reason why the Byfield space should be folded into someone else’s proposal.”

Her concern, as well as that of other tenants, was based on the final proposal to be presented.

Todd Thomas, president of Thomas and Thomas Development, Inc. of Newport, presented his organization’s vision for the three buildings in which a technology, arts and manufacturing innovation center would be created within the three buildings.

“What we’re trying to create is an incubator space that will sustain all of it,” Mr. Thomas said.

Under Mr. Thomas’ proposal, his group was not looking to lease space in the buildings as put forth in the RFP, but instead, presented a model in which his group would redesign the building space and manage them so that groups such as the Bristol Theater Company, BADG and other tenants could still lease space. Under his proposal, the town would be relieved of the responsibility of being a landlord and the public/private entity would implement a more consistent process and charge a fair market value on the leased space.

“There are things that municipalities are good at,” Mr. Thomas said. “The private sector is better at bean counting. Bringing them together brings balance.”

While Mr. Thomas and members of the town council agreed that there were many moving parts to Mr. Thomas’ proposal that warranted more discussion, the council, while entertaining the idea, questioned whether it fell under the parameters of the request for proposals that prompted it.

“This is a management plan as opposed to a lease proposal,” said councilman, Nathan Calouro.

The council also suggested that another request for proposal worded for a management plan could bring other ideas like Mr. Thomas’ to the table.

“It’s a good project in the wrong location,” she said of the idea.

And while the town has had success in renting space in two of the three otherwise empty buildings, for the time being, they see no need to change the current practice.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said councilman, Halsey Herreshoff.

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