Residential, commercial and industrial construction are showing signs of picking up, although it’s too soon to suggest that the Great Recession is over and better times are around the corner.
“It’s a good sign,” City Planner William DePasquale said Tuesday of major subdivisions to be considered by the Planning Board. “Hopefully, it’s a sign of better things to come.”
On Aug. 20, planners will consider a nine-lot single-family home division on Julian Road, the largest single-family project the city has seen in years. The project is being developed by Sturbridge Home Builder Inc., the same developer building four homes on Lufkin Court that also plans to start 23 condominium units in five buildings on West Shore Road very soon.
As for inquiries from developers – an indicator of whether the city could see a resurgence of construction – DePasquale says what’s “shocking” is the growing interest in manufacturing space. He says it’s shocking because there’s a presumption that manufacturing jobs are leaving the country.
In terms of ranking inquiries about space and potential development, DePasquale put industrial and manufacturing ahead of office space, followed by retail and then hotels and restaurants. He said interest in single-family housing currently tops multi-family developments.
DePasquale said studies show that the Northeast has a higher rate of per capita production than other parts of the country. Also, he feels the city, and in particular the Warwick Station District, is well positioned to take advantage of companies looking to expand.
DePasquale said he has met with consultants and is doing “what we can to get the word out” about what links to rail, air and highway transportation the district offers.
“I know, if those looking in the Boston area get their eyes down here, they’ll see the opportunities,” he said. Critical to his pitch is what he calls the “affordability index.”
DePasquale said those living in the ring communities of Boston are paying 58 percent of their income on housing and transportation. While he didn’t have comparable statistics for Warwick, DePasquale said housing costs are lower. Transportation costs for the Station District, he believes, would also be less. This would give workers more discretionary funds and a reason to locate here rather than Boston.
The fact that the district has caught the attention of the Federal Highway Administration has also helped to put it on people’s radar. The city has won two grants totaling $1.4 million, of which $400,000 will be used for marketing the station district and $1 million for infrastructure improvements.
Mayor Scott Avedisian has likewise seen an up-tick in activity.
“All you need to do is look at Metro Center, it’s almost full,” he said referring to the new office building by Michael Ineglia.
Hugh Fisher, president of Sturbridge, is one of the few local homebuilders to come here and other parts of the state. Few large tracts remain for home construction in Warwick.
The Julian Road development is 4.8 acres and, assuming he gets the required permits, Fisher hopes to have foundations in the ground by this fall.
Is there a market for more housing in a city with an estimated 325 vacant houses from foreclosure?
Fisher acknowledges a lot of properties going for short sales, but there is still a market for new properties and, in particular, the “woman-centric” homes Sturbridge builds.
“They think they’re getting a great deal,” Fisher said about people who buy a house on short sales, but, after renovations and repairs, people end up spending more than had they built new.
“There’s nothing cookie cutter about them,” he said of his houses. Two-story houses are planned but a single level option is available. They range from 1,200 to 1,700 square feet for $200,000 to $300,000.
Fisher tailors his homes to women because they know what they want.
“For us [men], we want to know where do I sleep, where do I eat and where do I get away.” He said the get-a-ways are a basement or garage with a place for a workbench, exercise equipment or a ping-pong table.
“We are catering to clients like we have never catered to before. Now we build to your personality,” he said. “If the wife is happy, the guy is happy.”
Fisher starts with four basic concepts: the casual home, which he calls the Maggie, the formal Clayre, the contemporary Margo and the Elise, who isn’t that fussy. From there, he says it’s a mix and match. Some people may prefer the formal dining room and the Elise kitchen and Maggie bedrooms.
“So, we put together and build a Susan,” he said.
He’ll be applying the same technique to Wyndermere, the condominiums he hopes to start building this summer on a former landscaping company lot not far from the Hoxsie School on West Shore Road. The units will have garages for an older clientele who, he believes, are looking to move out of larger homes yet remain in this city and have the convenience of a condominium.
Warwick isn’t the only place Fisher has found a market for new homes. He has a 236 single-family development – sure to be one of the largest developments of its kind in recent times – on the drawing boards for just north of Wickford.