Commentary: Metacomet purchase could be expensive, but losing it is even more costly

By Candy Seel
Posted 12/3/20

In the four months since the Marshalls first approached the City with their so-called Plan A, we have often heard Mayor DaSilva and Councilman Britto speak about Metacomet. Both have argued that they …

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Commentary: Metacomet purchase could be expensive, but losing it is even more costly

Posted

In the four months since the Marshalls first approached the City with their so-called Plan A, we have often heard Mayor DaSilva and Councilman Britto speak about Metacomet. Both have argued that they need to consider the interests of the entire City—including where and how to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned money—and not just the interests of a subset of the community, This is a reasonable approach and I understand it.

Take the new high school. It is widely recognized that a top notch educational system, complete with a state-of-the-art high school, is an economic boon for a municipality. Potential residents seeking to raise their families in the best possible setting are drawn to a community, such as ours, that values quality education. East Providence voters realized this when they overwhelmingly approved a bond to pay for a new high school.

Were all these voters the parents of high school students? No. Were they all parents of young children who would someday attend a shiny new high school? Probably not. Will we all drive by the new high school someday and feel Townie pride that we had the foresight to build it for generations to come? I think so. Many of us will receive no direct benefit from the property taxes we’ll hand over to pay for the new school. But everyone who voted to fund it realized that the new high school will serve the whole community, not just the interests of a few.

And thus it is with Metacomet. Do we all play golf? No. Will we all take advantage of access to a potential public/private partnership that opens up Metacomet to the community? Maybe not. Will we all drive down Veterans Memorial Parkway someday, marveling at the beauty of Metacomet’s rolling hills and lush greenery, and take pride in the fact that we had the foresight to preserve it for generations to come? I hope so. Many of us will receive no direct benefit. But as residents, we as a community must all recognize that it is this environment that will attract young families and professionals to East Providence, not a concrete jungle bordered with 3,000-plus parking spaces and surrounded by an 8-foot fence.

The City administration must make a good faith effort to identify the path forward to preserve the gem that is Metacomet, be it by friendly purchase or through eminent domain. The cost to buy the property is substantial, but not insurmountable. The most frequently mentioned figure is $10 million. While City Solicitor Marcello has tossed around a figure as high as $18 million, many others question whether the Marshalls’ reported purchase price of $7.6 million was at all realistic, considering that the tax assessed value of the property in 2019 was less than $4 million and that the Faxon group had only paid $2.5 million in cash and assumption of debt 10 months before they sold it to Marshall. An evaluation by a certified professional appraiser would go a long way to determine the property’s value.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume the $10 million. During a recent mayoral Zoom meeting, the City Finance Director stated that the debt service on a $10 million bond over 20 years would be under $700,000 annually. That is steep, no doubt, but consider that he said last week at the City Council meeting that $6 million in capital funds are available to be used toward the purchase. And how about the synchronization fund? Are there still funds in that account, which has been dipped into before? Besides these two resources, the debt could also be reduced by grants if we really look for them, by individual contributions from big-pocket donors and from everyday citizens, and by a leasing agreement with a management team capable of maintaining the golf course with ample opportunity for the public to enjoy it, too. More than one group has offered a deal in the neighborhood of $200,000 to $300,000 annually. That knocks off close to half the annual debt service.

This is doable. If the City administration will quit foot dragging and be serious about this, we as a community can keep Metacomet Green for another 100 years. The cost to buy Metacomet may be a challenge, but the cost of losing it will be much, much greater in the long run.

Ms. Seel is a member of the “Keep Metacomet Green” community group and former candidate for City Council.

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