City hopeful of preserving mill as signature to station district
A historic feature of the Warwick Station District – Elizabeth Mill built in 1875 – appears to have been saved from the wrecking ball following a meeting Monday between the mayor, city officials and representatives from the Rhode Island Historical and Heritage Preservation Commission, Leviton Manufacturing and a Providence developer and potential owner of the 67-acre property.
“We’re making great progress,” Mark Carruolo, chief of staff, said yesterday. He said the parties laid out their concerns at the meeting and are “working on a solution.”
That appears to be a turnaround from where the parties were as recently as a week ago.
Late this summer, rumors circulated that the historic mill building and its distinctive tower would be torn down before the end of the year to save more than $500,000 in city taxes. Neither Leviton nor Kouffler/KGI Properties, which reportedly is in talks to buy the property, would confirm the report. However, according to City Planner William DePasquale, KGI obtained an application for a demolition permit but, as of yesterday, no application had been filed with the city Building Department.
“We have long recognized the historical importance of the Elizabeth Mill building. I am hopeful that we can reach agreement to preserve the structure while being sensitive to the needs of the Leviton family. We are on the path to accomplishing that due to an ability to work cooperatively. I hope that spirit and optimism continues,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said in an email about the meeting.
Carrulolo said the city is looking at an arrangement that would benefit Leviton, or the future owners of the property, while saving at least the old mill portion of the property.
While the details have not been worked out, the idea would be for other than the historic building to be demolished, thereby reducing taxes and clearing the land for future development. As the former mill is classified as commercial and taxed on the income generated, it would be vacant and taxes would be reduced. Further, as the city reasons, the historic building could serve as an attraction to developers as it may become available for tax credits and provide the basis for a unique development.
Carruolo said there could be several levels of mill preservation, from refurbishing it and giving new life to the structure, to saving just a portion of the building, to incorporating brick from the structure into a new building. But, he observed, if the mill is demolished, all those options would be gone.
“If they take the building down, there’s no level of preservation,” he said.
DePasquale sees the mill as crucial to giving the Station District (west of Post Road and Green Airport to Jefferson Boulevard with the Interlink at its center) a sense of place and character.
“Reuse of that building gives the district a link to traditional Warwick. Without it, we are anywhere USA and once it is lost, it is lost forever,” he said. “This says so much about the city’s beginning. It is a tangible link to the past.”
Rick Greenwood, deputy director of the Historical Commission who attended the meeting, said the mill is testimony to what Thomas Jefferson Hill created.
“He created Hillsgrove out of nothing,” he said of the mill village.
What Hill recognized, he said, is that steam power could be put to use anywhere and that mills didn’t have to be built on a stream. He said the mill is “an expression of pride and confidence in Rhode Island” at the turn of the last century.
Looking ahead, he said development could be a marriage between preservation and smart growth. During the meeting, he pointed out that the property meets criteria to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would make it eligible for a 20 percent federal tax credit.
“This is really a landmark for this part of Warwick,” Greenwood said.
“We had a very positive meeting,” said DePasquale. He said that KGI “stepped forward and saw the value [of saving the mill].” DePasquale said the city aims to work with the owner and the Historical and Heritage Preservation Commission in marketing and developing the site. The city is also developing a plan for the branding and marketing of the entire station district. Using a $400,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation, the city is advertising for proposals to develop an overall scheme for the district, including a logo, a slogan and down to details such as colors for signage and other features. It would also include an analysis of potential tenants of the district and involve the input from existing businesses.
DePasquale called the mill “the pinnacle for development” on the west side of the railroad tracks and Jefferson Boulevard. He said the focus on the east side of the tract is the sky bridge connecting the airport terminal with the station and rental car and commuter parking garage on Jefferson Boulevard. He said there is interest from developers looking to access the sky bridge. DePasquale said it is premature to talk about specific uses, however he envisions a place where people can live, work and play for this and the next generation.
DePasquale is encouraged by inquiries he is receiving about development within the district. He said there has been “increased outreach” to market the district and that “things are picking up.”
Christopher Doveala, Leviton vice president and general manager, who attended the Monday meeting, did not return a call. A call to Kouffler/KGI Properties was also not returned.