The dream of City Centre was a place where the confluence of modes of transportation – rail, air and highway – would attract office, retail, hotels and some resident development for young …
The dream of City Centre was a place where the confluence of modes of transportation – rail, air and highway – would attract office, retail, hotels and some resident development for young professionals who would go on the buy single family homes, have kids and, of course, a dog. The vision dates back three decades and some of that development has happened including construction of the Interlink with an MBTA station, two hotels with the forerunner being the Hilton Garden Inn and more recently the Hyatt Place on the north end of the former D’Ambra Construction corporate offices and asphalt plant. D’Ambra had plans for an office park on most of the rest of the Jefferson Boulevard site. In a recent encounter, Michael D’Ambra, president of the company, said that may change given the demand for housing.
On Wednesday night, the Planning Board gave final approval to build two buildings with 210 apartments on a 6.5 acre site once a LAZ Parking lot that was acquired by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation to eliminate the competition.
While single family homes have been built on the fringe of the intermodal zone and condominiums are under construction by the same developer, on the Kilvert Street, Planning Board Chair Phil Slocum sees the apartments planned by Skydra Development a subsidiary of Schiavo Enterprises of Dedham, MA as the catalyst for more major investments in City Centre and the realization of that dream for a Warwick downtown.
The difference is that housing is looking to be the heart to City Centre, not the gleaming glass office structures architects portrayed. The demand for office space has plummeted as the pandemic had people working from home, work habits changed and new technologies changed the work place.
As office space went begging during the pandemic, the demand for housing sent home and condo prices soaring. Rentals are also scarce and rents shot up, too.
Skydra’s proposal that required a zone change placing the site in the Intermodal Zone has gained City Council approval. Zoning plays a critical role in the project Skydra, owner Robert Schiavo explained in an interview last year. The Intermodal Zone allows a developer to apply for a delayed schedule in setting the appraised value of a development for tax purposes over 15 years on condition the project is valued at $5 million or more.
If granted, the property would be appraised at its undeveloped value for five years. On the sixth year, 90 percent of the assessed value would be exempted for the basis of taxes. That percentage would drop by 10 percent each year until the 15th year when taxes would be based on the full assessed valuation.
“Anytime you can get that assistance it’s going to help, any thing is going to help,” Schiavo said at the time. He estimated the cost of the development at $40 million.
Last Wednesday K. Joseph Shekarchi, representing Skydra, was prepared to review the proposed development and answer questions should the board want. The hearing moved quickly and only one member of the public, Michael Holmes, business representative of Carpenters Union Local 330 spoke. He endorsed the project. When it came time for the vote board member Kevin Flynn observed that “after decades it (development of City Centre) seems to be happening.”
Slocum reasoned the size of the Skydra development will “build confidence” among other developers and additional projects will be forthcoming.
The letter of board approval note that the vision for 2033 as outlined in the Warwick Comprehensive Plan, includes a vision statement that “City Centre Warwick is a vibrant live-work-play growth hub with mixed-use, transit-oriented development” and calls for the City to “Focus multi-family and other high density options in City Centre. “
It goes on to say the goal is to “Promote a mixture of housing choices in the City as well as mixed-income housing in City Centre within walking distance to commuter rail.”
Following the vote, Schiavo said his next step is to close on the RIAC property. RIAC bought the LAZ lot for $3 million in 2016 and has an agreement to sell it to Skydra Development for $3.3 million.
Schiavo is hopeful construction could start by the first of the New Year and be completed within two years.
The Planning Board acted as rapidly on granting approval to Melwick Builders LLC to demolish commercial buildings at 2550 Post Road and 68 Greene Street for development of a five-unit multi-family residential development. Shekarchi also represented Kevin Murphy and Melwick Builders.