By JOHN HOWELL Warwick is on the verge of a building boom. Consider all that is on the drawing boards: a warehouse covering 11 acres; a 122-room hotel that when completed will give the city 17 hotels with more than 2,200 rooms; multiple housing
Warwick is on the verge of a building boom.
Consider all that is on the drawing boards: a warehouse covering 11 acres; a 122-room hotel that when completed will give the city 17 hotels with more than 2,200 rooms; multiple housing developments, the two largest of which total of 93 housing units; conversion of the former Toys R Us at Rhode Island Mall into a BJs; and two service stations/convenience stores.
Many of the projects gained Planning Board preliminary approval at a July 14 meeting that didn’t adjourn until midnight.
The white-hot real estate market is surely helping fuel new housing developments. The median price for single-family homes in the state hit $385,000 in June, a record high according to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors. Inventory continues to be an issue with bidding wars erupting between anxious buyers. The average time for a home to be on the market is 27 days.
The housing developments on the agenda included Great Point Group LLC’s (developer Robert Lamoureux) plan for a combination multi-family residential development plus townhouses – Hillsgrove City Centre – within walking distance of the MBTA station and airport interlink on Kilvert Street and the Centerville Builders’ (also developer Robert Lamoureux) plan to build 20 duplex-style condominiums on 3.3 acres on Sandy Lane backing up to Little Pond. Great Point was granted preliminary/final approval to build a 73-unit multi-family residential development comprised of 54 townhouse-style units in addition to 19 single-family homes with access to Graystone Street.
The Sandy Lane project was granted master plan approval, but as the land is zoned A-10, it requires a zone change to A-10 Planned District Residential from the City Council. The planners are recommending council approval of the change in zoning, concluding that the development is “generally consistent with the Comprehensive Community Plan.”
At the Thursday meeting of the Warwick Rotary Club, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi noted that planners granted master plan approval for a 122-room WoodSpring Suites extended stay hotel on a 2.4-acre vacant parcel next to Chelo’s on Post Road, which had once been the site of The Great House. Shekarchi represented Gold Coast Properties, which is buying the property from the New England Institute of Technology. Shekarchi said if everything goes as planned, ground could be broken this fall and the new hotel up and running within a year.
Shekarchi doesn’t imagine WoodSpring Suites is the only new hotel on the horizon.
“There’s a lot of activity,” he said.
“A lot of businesses want to come here. Travel is doing better, hotels are doing better, hotels are changing. Other hotels are looking at it post-pandemic, where to go, what to do.”
Offering an assessment of business conditions, Shekarchi said the demand for office space remains soft “because of COVID a lot of people are just deciding where they want to go back to work.”
“But the rest of Warwick is doing strong … There’s a lot of good things,” he said.
In an interview Monday, City Principal Planner Lucas Murray attributed the surge in development in part to a pent-up demand resulting from the pandemic as well as low interest rates.
“They have capital in hand,” he said of developers.
He pointed out that projects in the pipeline came to a halt with the shutdown in March 2020. No only were municipal offices closed, although staff worked from home or closed offices, but planning and zoning boards did not start meeting online until June 2020.
Throwing a crimp into development has been the availability and higher cost of materials.
Kelly Coates, president of Carpionato Properties that is in the process of building a Citizens Bank at the Wildes Corner Dave’s Fresh Marketplace plaza, is seeing what he calls “flight quality.” By that, he explained that companies are looking to move their operations to improved sites. That’s what is happening with the Citizens branch. He expects the branch to be finished and operational by this fall when other tenants of the former Benny’s property will be announced.
A West Shore Road traffic signal that Carpionato promised when granted approval for Dave’s Fresh Marketplace is on order. He expects it will also be operational this fall.
Coates looks at Neon Marketplace, which plans on opening 25 service station/convenience stores within the year, as re-purposing prime locations. Neon, which is owned by Procaccianti Companies, has started construction of its flagship store at the corner of Post and Airport roads. It also plans to build a Neon Marketplace on the site of the 1149 restaurant on Division Street.
Not all new development comes before the Planning or Zoning boards for review as they don’t require approval for a change in use. That’s the case with BJs Club and conversion of the former Toys R Us and the 455-unit self-storage facility planned for 1280 Jefferson Boulevard. The 60,000-square-foot building across from the Gamm Theatre has been used for reel-to-reel plating for electronic components.
Similarly, some developments, like that planned for the Dunkin’ Donuts at Hoxsie Four Corners, are expansions of existing business. RJB Realty gained major plan approval to demolish three buildings on three separate lots to erect a new 5,907-square-foot fast food restaurant with a drive-thru window, parking and landscaping.
The former Rite Aid on Warwick Avenue and Betsy Williams Drive is another example of new uses and construction. Colbea Enterprises gained master plan approval to build to build a gas station and convenience and/or grocery retail (a Seasons Corner Market) on the 1.2-acre site. The former pharmacy is to be demolished.
Coates is not seeing a demand for office space, even though new office space is under construction in Massachusetts. He said “ground-up construction is very difficult to do.” He said steel remains difficult to get. He foresees a decline in lumber costs.
“Prices are starting to level off,” he said.
Mayor Frank Picozzi is excited by the surge in development. This week he named interim planning director Bruce Keiser to head up economic development. He will be assisted by Sue Baker, who is currently in the Planning Department.
Picozzi said the message he wants the city to convey is to “come here,” and to do that he is looking to tell developers, as well as those looking to start a business, how the city can help them, including the challenges they might face.
“We want to make it easy to do business with Warwick,” he said.