EAST PROVIDENCE — The developers and a delegation of city officials gathered recently at the long-dormant Washburn Wire/Ocean State Steel facility off Roger Williams Avenue in Rumford to break …
EAST PROVIDENCE — The developers and a delegation of city officials gathered recently at the long-dormant Washburn Wire/Ocean State Steel facility off Roger Williams Avenue in Rumford to break ground on the “East Point” housing development.
The real estate firm Churchill & Banks, through its subsidiary Noble Development, plans to construct a large variety of accommodations on the former industrial brownfield, which for years had been mired in litigation, with an approximately $120 million investment into the 27-acre site.
The land was remediated with federal monies in the early 2000s. Noble intends to build a combination of 392 single and multi-family residences as well as apartments, including 39 age-restricted affordable units.
“Thousands of homes need to be built in Rhode Island to keep pace with the demand,” said Richard Baccari II, of Noble. “The reuse and repurpose of vacant, industrial land for residential development is smart growth policy that will help Rhode Island’s future.”
The future of the parcel where so many city residents once worked was up in the air for the better part of the last 20 years.
In 2001, the developer GeoNova, which was using the same albeit spelled differently “East Pointe” monicker as the project’s working title, authored the first proposal to convert the location from all commercial to mixed-use. GeoNova's $200-million plan was to build close to 500 condominiums, townhouses and single-family houses, as well as commercial spaces, on the stretch of land bordering the Seekonk River.
At the time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the city a $2-million grant and a $3-million loan to aid with cleanup of the industrial parcel, which had been contaminated for decades by heavy metals associated with the steel industry.
Construction of the first housing units was slated to start back in early 2004, but never materialized. Although an old mill was torn down and the environmental cleanup was completed, the project never progressed beyond that moment.
An ensuing legal dispute between GeoNova and the city sent the matter into the court system, where it actually remained mired until recently when Noble bought the land out of receivership. The housing crash that created the “Great Recession” in 2008 also hindered the effort.
Through several fits and starts, the land languished with potential suitors coming and going until Noble, which was in the process of finishing a similar development in city at Kettle Point off Veterans Memorial Parkway, made its approach in the fall of 2020.
The residential units in various forms (apartments, duplexes, single family) at East Point will be divided into two sections; “coastal” along the Seekonk River and “inland/pond” nearer to Roger Williams Avenue aptly abutting the Omega Pond.
Of note for the general populous, six acres of waterfront will be publicly accessible, linking East Providence to the Metro Bay Urban Coastal Greenway on the river’s edge.
“This went through a number of twists and turns to get to this point,” lawyer and court-appointed Special Master of the land Mark Russo said. “We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without the city and its team and Mayor (Bob) DaSilva’s commitment to helping the process.”
Noble spent the last two years working with the City Council, the mayor's office, the East Providence Waterfront Commission, the East Providence Planning Board, the courts, the private sector and environmental authorities to bring the proposal to fruition.
Earlier this calendar year, Noble and the city entered into a Tax Incremental Financing agreement, a “TIF,” in the amount of $22,250,000 to help repurpose the site. Noble will use the bulk of the TIF monies ($17,245,108) to build and install all of the necessary infrastructure.
The largest single cost is for the construction of a 30-foot wide main entry way into the parcel off Roger Williams Avenue ($4.5 million) over the still active Genesee & Wyoming Railroad (formerly Providence & Worcester) line that bisects the location.
The TIF monies will also be used to install the necessary streets, sidewalks, lighting, utilities, landscaping, etc. ($1,945,108). Another roughly $4.6 million will be used on various elements involved in allowing for community access, like parking ($750,000), improvements around Omega Pond ($750,000), a pathway/patios ($1,800,000) and a public park ($350,000).
“It has been a long road to arrive at this point today,” East Providence Waterfront Commission Chairman William Fazioli on the occasion of the groundbreaking. “Fortunately we have city leaders and development partners who share this approach and who know how to transform potential into reality.”
According to the DaSilva administration, the sale of this property also freed up $1.6 million in Community Development Block Grant funds that will now be available for use in other projects.
“This is a big win for our city,” DaSilva said. “This development will help retain and attract residents to our community which will strengthen our local economy. We are thankful for the dedication of Richard Baccari II and the team at Noble and the members of the East Providence Waterfront Commission.”
"East Point" will become the third significant housing project currently active in the city. Estimates for the first units to become available for purchase or rent is anticipated to be sometime in 2024 at the earliest.
The residential component of the mixed-use "Newport Center" apartment/retail complex at Newport Avenue and New Road also in Rumford is expected to be ready sometime is 2023. The new Cumberland Farms conveneince store is planned to open next month, December 2022.
Also, portions of the "Wampanoag Meadows" apartment complex between the Trail and Hospital Road in Riverside once the site of an active sand and gravel pit are expected to be ready for rent sometime in the first quarter of 2023.