City officials are seeking to be as persuasive as possible to save what they consider a keystone to the development of the Warwick Station District, the Elizabeth Mill building on Jefferson Boulevard, across from the Interlink.
While confirmation could not be obtained, Leviton Manufacturing and the Kouffler Group and KGI Properties out of Providence are reportedly in negotiations to buy the property. Reports circulated last week that the former mill, with 486,890 square feet of space, would come down by Dec. 31. The purpose of demolishing the structure so quickly would be to take it off the tax rolls.
“We want to protect the mill; we’ll do everything we can. There’s a lot of historical significance to the city,” Mark Carruolo, chief of staff to Mayor Scott Avedisian, said Thursday. He said the city is in “ongoing conversations” with Leviton and Kouffler/KGI Properties “to preserve the mill.”
Asked what might be built on the site, Carruolo said he had heard “box stores.”
Word that the building could be razed and that prospective owners would do it this year, started circulating about 10 days ago. Reportedly, tenants of the property with month-to-month leases were informed the demolition was required to save on taxes.
“I’m hearing something to that affect,” City Tax Assessor and Collector Ken Mallette said when asked if he had heard talk that the mill building would come down.
According to city records, the property is owned by Ridgeway Realty Co. Inc., located in Little Neck, N.Y. and carries a value of $13.7 million for buildings and $4.9 million for land. Taxes are $500,000, of which $372,700 is on the building.
Mallette said Leviton appealed the valuation. He said the appeal goes back to 2004 and is still in Superior Court. Leviton still maintains an office in the complex, although its electrical components manufacturing operation once housed there has been relocated out of the country,
Before leaving for the Republican Convention in Tampa last week, Avedisian said the city has written to Leviton, underscoring the significance of the mill and the hope that it would be saved. At that time, the possibility the mill might be razed before this December was news to him.
A visit to Leviton offices and subsequent calls to the designated contact did not result in callbacks. Personnel at the Koffler Group referred questions to Leviton.
The Koffler Group is no stranger to Warwick. The company had plans to build housing on the former Seaview Country Club 9-hole golf course in Warwick Neck. That plan met heavy resistance from neighbors and raised issues over access. The plan fell by the wayside and, in the last three years, the club was bought by former Governor Philip Noel and his son, Joseph, who have upgraded the golf course, connected it with Harborlight Marina, which they also own and operate, and have plans to expand the clubhouse banquet facilities. The complex is named Harbor Lights.
According to the Koffler Group website, the company began its operation in 1978, capitalized with proceeds resulting from founder Sol Koffler's sale of American Tourister Luggage Company to Hillenbrand Industries. Since then, the group has acquired or developed more than 5 million square feet of space valued at more than $350 million. KGI was established in 2001 to acquire, develop and manage retail and mixed-use real estate. It has developed about 2.5 million square feet at a cost of $250 million.
Carruolo acknowledged, “We’re going to take a hit on taxes, but I’m less than happy if they knock that building down, too.”
The mill’s bell tower has served as a focal point to the village of Hillsgrove since the late 1800s. In developing the Warwick Station District plan, the mill was seen as giving the district a tie to its history while preserving its character and unique quality. Planners envision the Leviton property as being developed for a mixed use of housing, retail and commercial. At one time, there was a proposal for a mini-village on the 80-acre property incorporating all those uses.
According to historian Don D’Amato’s book published for the city’s 350th celebration in 1992, the Elizabeth Mill was built about 1875 as a steam powered 20,000-spindle cotton mill. The mill was named for Elizabeth Kenyon Hill, the third wife of Thomas Jefferson Hill. Hill is credited for planting a line of trees on Kilvert Street and Jefferson Avenue (now Jefferson Boulevard), giving the neighborhood the name of Hill’s Grove.