December 21, 2014
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Mayor feels timing is right for development
Millenials are future for City Centre

Now that he’s surely running for re-election – Mayor Scott Avedisian filed his declaration papers yesterday with the Board of Canvassers – expect to hear more about the millenials.

Millennials?

Yes, generation Y – those people 24 to 35 years old [maybe younger and maybe older] who are planning for their futures.

“It’s the younger generation that seems to be where the market is,” Avedisian said in an interview Friday.

Freshly back from Washington, D.C. where he met with developers as a member of the Advisory Board of the Smart Growth America Local Leaders Council, Avedisian is gearing up to market City Centre Warwick, the 90 acres between the airport and Jefferson Boulevard envisioned for a mixed use of offices, hotels, residential and retail linked to the intermodal hub of services provided by the proximity of Routes 95 and 295, the airport and rail service.

As for millenials, Avedisian described the generation as young professionals looking to live close to amenities in 1,000-square-foot loft-type apartments and likely to not own a car. He said they have worked the numbers and come to the conclusion that paying for a car that is going to be used for only 5 percent of the time doesn’t make sense financially.

He described millenials who would be attracted to City Centre as preferring the convenience of nearby transportation and a “walkable” setting where they can get to markets and entertainment. He said this group “understands environmental issues” and has a higher percentage of higher educational degrees.

“This is the time to really move,” he said of marketing City Centre.

Development for the Warwick Station Redevelopment District, which was re-branded City Centre last year, has lagged. The first and only major change, now dating back years, has been the work of Joseph Piscopio who demolished most of the former Malleable Iron Works building, using original bricks in constructing the Hilton Garden Inn and renovating the office building as the Iron Works Tavern.

With the purchase of the former Leviton 80-acre property and the Elizabeth Mill last year, Avedisian hailed the prospect of additional development and the conversion of the mill into housing or offices. Saving the building was viewed as critical to rooting City Centre in the history of its past and providing a signature structure that would distinguish it from “anywhere” USA.

But new owner of the property and developer Michael Integlia made no promises to save the mill when he gained city approval to subdivide the property. Now with a deadline to bifurcate the vintage mill from later additions now owned by Dean Warehouse, Integlia is faced with heating the old mill or converting its fire suppression system to a dry system to meet the fire code. Integlia has talked about demolition and City Planner William DePasquale wouldn’t be surprised if he files for a permit soon.

Avedisian holds out hope that Integlia will yet find a buyer for the mill, although he concedes the numbers for re-purposing the mill as provided by Integlia don’t hold up.

“The cost structure needs to be economically feasible,” he said.

Short of re-purposing the building, Avedisian suggested saving portions of the mill, or a new building that incorporates architectural features of the mill might preserve that link to the city’s industrial past.

“I would love to save the mill. It’s part of the fabric of the community. But realistically,” he added, “I don’t want it to crumble and decay [because re-purposing it fails to work financially].”

The issue of the mill aside, Avedisian is enthused by the possibilities for City Centre, especially after his Washington conference where he met with developers.

Avedisian was named to the Local Leaders Council in 2012. The group is a national network of local elected leaders, representing a diverse array of communities, who are committed to using "smart growth" techniques within their cities and towns to help them compete and thrive in the current economy, create vibrant live/work spaces and provide good transportation and housing choices for their citizens.

Board members' responsibilities include traveling regionally and nationally to share their communities' stories, helping shape activities and direction of the Local Leaders Council, convening for the annual summit, and advising and assisting those that want to emulate and share successful policies. Members also gain access to policy development and implementation assistance, along with other benefits.

“The most important takeaway from this conference was the networking with other elected officials on zoning, development, and smart growth issues,” he said.

In the last week, meetings have been set up with two out-of-state and one in-state developer to look at City Centre. Avedisian said developers are impressed and drawn to the site because of the $1 million in federal funds committed to district infrastructure improvements – improvements developers would not have to absorb and to the innovative approaches to brownfields restoration that would likewise be cost-saving measures.

“All the pieces are there,” the mayor said.

While not disclosing any details, DePasquale said there has been inquiries about City Centre East and that proposed development in City Centre West should be announced shortly. He said expansion of the district to the north is a possibility.


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