Tyska: Tourister auction was opportunity lost

tyska

Editor’s note: Bristol Marine and Rhode Island Marine Trades Association president Andy Tyska wrote this commentary in the wake of his firm’s failed bid to acquire the old American Tourister mill at auction. The mill ultimately will be sold to a New Hampshire real estate developer.

tyskaAmerican Tourister.  The day of the auction.

The vision became clearer and clearer every day.

An aquaculture facility, unique to the region, through collaboration with Johnson and Wales University and Roger Williams University, creating a completely sustainable and traceable food source.  The presence of a large brewery, creating significant local jobs.  I could see the addition of a recently displaced,  local high end restaurant.  Education embedded in industry, a continuation of the results we have seen in Bristol by operating a facility to support boatbuilding, repair, and the region’s maritime heritage.   And the part of the vision, I couldn’t shake, the sight of the tall ship Providence, tied alongside the new boardwalk providing access for the community to our State’s greatest asset, Narragansett Bay.

I have been offered consoling words over my failed attempt at acquiring the American Toursiter facility, having been outbid by just $100,000. However I thought I would provide a little more perspective.  As they say, everything happens for a reason.

My bid was originally for $1.25 million.  In mostly $25,000 increments, the price quickly elevated to $2.0 million, in a heart pumping test of nerves at auction in Rhode Island’s Superior Court.  After a brief recess, I couldn’t hope more that our next bid would be the one, the final, and highest.  The bidding kept going, at $2.1M the rational minds of those on my team thought to let it go.  I took over the actual bidding from our legal representation and personally continued to bid up to $2.5M.

Our competing bidder asked for a recess and removed themselves to a private room.  It was during this time I thought of a few things.  The vision that I had became overshadowed.  My original anticipated cost of acquisition had just doubled from $1.25 million.  I had a flashback to my first visit to Town Hall, when eye to eye contact was avoided in the zoning department, and standard inquires were met with referrals to the Town Solicitor.  Although the Town Manager and Council were accommodating with their time and consideration of our vision, I was surprised when my request for a letter stating  their support for my vision of maintaining and creating jobs was denied for fear of possible legal repercussions.

When the residential developer Brady Sullivan returned from recess and offered $2.6 million, it made sense, Warren still wasn’t quite ready to commit to the idea of a real working waterfront.  I decided to bid no higher and offer Mr. Sullivan congratulations.

The idea of “preserved use” is real.  The goal is simple.  A facility providing jobs like was originally intended for those that live in town and the surrounding communities.  Although the direct benefits to the tax base are less than a residential facility, the effects on the community are much greater.  We did it in Bristol.  Where hundreds, years ago, worked at Minor Industries and the Carr-Fulflex facilities, after decades of abandonment, hundreds now see our reuse reflected in their weekly paycheck.  It can be done in Warren. I offer two suggestions:

Fight for, not against
Refrain from expending precious time fighting against something. Instead, spend half the amount of time you would fighting, on efforts to support what you believe to be good.  Your returns will be two fold, in the direction of forward progress.
It’s better to act than not
A sad way to live and act, forever afraid of possible legal action, warranted or not, relating those actions towards that which is believed to be best.  Those concerns about the actions you take will become new, possibly greater, concerns resulting from actions not taken.

I wore my lucky underwear on February 14, 2013.  No, they did not have Valentine’s Day hearts on them, but Four Leaf clovers.  Upon returning from the auction I was convinced they did not work.  Then as time passed, I realized maybe they did.  I can now continue to invest in our existing business and look for opportunities where we can collaborate for long term job creation.

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10 Comments

  1. curiosityscout said:

    Wow- seems like another missed opportunity on Warren’s part. Warren is a very divided community and it is reflected in the lack of a plan and vision for what is needed here. Our zoning is from the 1970’s and has nothing to do with preserving a historic working waterfront or keeping open space and farms. It continues to be a town that is designed by private developers and the uglier the better. So much lost potential!!! Wish we had a leader with a progressive vision. :(

  2. Smile2 said:

    I am thrilled that a decision has been made and progress can begin. Hopefully this can start a trend to help beautify the most western part of town. The town council/zoning board seems to need a little more back bone to get things completed and perhaps the suggestions from Mr. Tyska to spend most of your energies fighting for rather then against would be more useful. We have quite a few vacant buildings and certainly could use some business in our small town. I see things moving in the right direction. Tourister building, Main Street School, Liberty street, let’s keep it going foward!

  3. Lastoneleft said:

    If residential is allowed at the Tourister building, Warren might as well bend over and kiss their collective butts goodbye. There is no market for rental housing on the East Bay, there is no market for condominiums on the East Bay, the building is too massive for elderly or assisted housing. (we need not look much further than Bristol and the longed stalled Robbin Rug residential development in a superior, waterfront location to discover this fact!) “Affordable family housing at the Tourister might work as its users would be drawn from throughout Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, but the former developer, Meridith, who are experts in this type of development, departed when they got further into their due diligence! As they discovered “it just doesn’t work!”

    Andy Tyska had a great plan for the property, he was backed by an investment group that believes in the area and they do not have to convince banks likewise, as they are cash investors! “Cash buyers that believe in the future of the marine trades and waterfront uses in Warren!” I’ll take Andy’s rose colored glasses over residential development any day! And if by chance Andy had a loss, in-spite of his great track record, what is left of the Touristor and its public improvements would be Warren’s gain.

    This is the second time that Warren has turned its back on a “slam dunk opportunity with Andy’s company.” Years ago he bid on the Harbor Marine properties for similar uses; but, the “anti-change town fathers” decided to buy these properties and market and redevelop them on their own. Now look at how successful that turned out to be: a restaurant with no parking, a yacht club dream, a small seasonal marina and a bike shop! That is a success story if I’ve never seen one!

    Now a new residential proposal. Well Bristol/Warren schools be prepared for increased class sizes and potentially new buildings. And what will 600 +/- new toilets do to complete the failure of a already overly stressed sewer plant?

    I realize Judge Silverstien made the final judgement on this and from the article it looks like Andy got little support from this tinytown of thinkers or the “experts” that they hire. Lets hope that after the new developer does his due diligence and the town takes control of the process that maybe there is a restored opportunity for Andy and the town.

    I’ll just sit here and wait for a “redo!”

    • 2nd Beach said:

      “(we need not look much further than Bristol and the longed stalled Robbin Rug residential development in a superior, waterfront location to discover this fact!”
      Robin Rug is a poor example. The last price ever quoted publicly was 10 times this price – $22 million, no? That’ll slow down development a touch.

      • Lastoneleft said:

        Russell Karian the owner of Robin Rug had Newport Collaborative design and permit a mixed use development plan for his building. This included deeding his riparian rights to Bristol so they could expand the town marina and build a board walk to the Elks. Mr. Karian had no real acquisition costs as the buiding had been in the family for years. By the time he got through permitting his project the market had crashed and it was no longer feasible. He did then market it, last I heard for 18 million, in the hopes that RWU would want it for dorms or a hotel user might be interested.

        Tourister, is zoned as a planned unit development (PUD) the town has very strict controls over the development plan. It also has major contamination issues that require a much hire level of clean up for a residential use than a commercial or industrial use.

        I do not disagree with you, but either way this redevelopment will not happen overnight, if at all.

        • Jerry Belair said:

          Lastoneleft. I am pretty familiar with the Tourister developement. You state that it has “major contamination issues”. Could you expand because having been involved in the environmental investigation I am not aware of any major issues. Do I see more fearmongering here? There is a significant difference between fact and opinion. Your “facts”, aren’t.

    • Jerry Belair said:

      Lastoneleft – Meredith never proposed an affordable housing development at Tourister, it proposed a condominium development. At 1/6th the purchase price – Bradley Sullivan has a very different proforma. With respect to the sewer system – how is it “overly stressed”? The sewer commission testified that it is at 60% capacity more than adequate capacity remaining for a few thousand homes. As for the schools, affordable housing would definately impact them with little return in property taxes but condominiums would not. Your comment that Warren should “kiss their collective butts goodbye” without even seeing a plan along with your fearmongering faulty “facts” suggest opposition for opposition’s sake.

  4. INTHEKNOW said:

    Boo Hoo Bristol Marine!!! Warren is better off with Brady Sullivan any day of the week. Mr. Tyska wants you to think that he always has Warren best interest first. Let me tell you Andy has his own pocket as his interest first and only. Mr. Tyska’s group is not that civic minded (Wake Up Warren). He is all for the Marine trades as long as they all pay him rent and know one else. I wonder if Andy would be so vocal if another person was trying to develop a marine trader center? Tyska is a bully in the east bay. And now when he get pushed around he cries…

    Take a look at Brady Sullivan’s web site and some of the things they have done. You will be surprised how capable they are.

  5. mra said:

    the track record of the town and this mill has not been good. what will happen to the business that are there no boot them out?mr tyska’s plan seemed to make more since. i guess only time will tell.

  6. Ron Cranwell said:

    This letter is filled with nothing but hypothetical possibilities. If Bristol Marine could have truly done everything Mr. Tyska mentions, why was their offer so low, and why didn’t they put forward a better PR campaign? Anyone can paint a pretty picture, especially after the fact. You don t have to look too far to see a project that did it right all the way thought , Hope and Main! This is proof Warren can come together and support progress.
    The Tourister development can still be great and include many of the mentioned ideas. The property is far too big for just residential use, any successful plan will include a lot of mixed use, no opportunity has been lost!
    The town of Warren should come together and view this as an opportunity, not be divided because a fair tail didn’t happen. The choice is ours, I hope people have learned from the past .
    Hopeful , Ron

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