Leviton acquisition hailed as engine for development
Much of the Leviton Manufacturing plant on Jefferson Boulevard has been devoid of activity for the past 10 years. Yet the 86-acre property hasn’t left the sight of developers, realtors and, most of all, city planners and state officials.
Yesterday, many of those people, including Mayor Scott Avedisian, Governor Lincoln Chafee and state director of transportation Michael Lewis, gathered on the third floor of the iconic Elizabeth Mill Building, across from the Interlink, to hear how Warwick developer Michael Integlia plans to breathe new life into the property he bought a month ago.
Drawing the analogy to the game of Monopoly, Integlia called the mill the epicenter of development in the city and the state, “the Park Place and Broadway.”
In September, Integlia gained Warwick Planning Board approval to subdivide the property into five lots. One of those lots, about 35 acres with a 570,000-square-foot building has been bought for $4.6 million by Dean Warehousing Corporation. A second, slightly smaller lot of wetlands with environmental concerns (which Integlia said were addressed by Leviton) has been turned over to a nature conservancy group from Nevada and will be left undeveloped.
It’s the remaining three lots, including the signature Elizabeth Mill building that Integlia plans to develop.
And that promises to come quickly for the property between the Airport Connector, Kilvert Street and Metro Center Boulevard. Integlia called that site the “bookend” to the DiSanto, Priest & Co. office building, which his company built for the CPA firm on the south side of the connector. Integlia said he is in talks with two possible tenants for an office building of 125,000 to 150,000 square feet. He put the cost of that at $25 million.
Officials hailed Integlia’s acquisition property as a key to development in the Warwick Station District on the opposite side of the Amtrak tracks and admired Integlia’s tenacity.
Chafee recalled that, as mayor, he realized that one of the city’s assets was the proximity of Green Airport to Amtrak; the shortest distance between an airport and the railroad in the Northeast. With his father, John Chafee, in the Senate, the young mayor was able to secure the first round of federal funding to connect the two. Later, as senator himself, the former mayor secured additional funding for the commuter station, garage and Interlink. That project cost $265 million.
Chafee said the state investment was seen as a means of spurring private investment but, “with the downturn of the economy, it was a little slower than hoped.”
“I can see office buildings going up,” and, referring to Integlia, and how he has kept building he said, “This guy keeps going through the hail and sleet of the economy.”
Putting a deal together on Leviton hasn’t come easily. In recent years, a number of possible uses for the site have been rumored, including its redevelopment for several big box stores and a combination retail and residential development.
“There have been a lot of stops and starts,” said Avedisian.
It was the plan of another developer to demolish the former mill to save on city taxes that sparked more intense involvement a year ago. At that time, the mayor and City Planner William DePasquale said the mill gives the station district a “sense of place” and that, without the brick mill tower and its history, the district would lose its uniqueness.
Avedisian said those developers didn’t grasp the notion that the past can be a door to the future. He said private redevelopment is already taking place and new uses, such as the Ocean State Theater Company on Jefferson Boulevard and the Salve Regina satellite campus on Metro Center Boulevard, are indicative of the area’s attraction. All told, the mayor said, the station and innovation districts offer up to 3 million square feet for development, with the potential for 3,000 new jobs.
But what becomes of the former mill building remains unanswered.
While he would prefer a future for the mill building, he would not commit to saving it. He said there is no agreement that it not be razed at some point in the future.
But that’s not the plan. He does have a vision.
First, as part of the subdivision, the older section of the mill will be bifurcated from that portion of the building acquired by Dean Warehousing within the next six months.
To make the remainder of the mill a financially viable project, Integlia said it would require a 100,000-square-foot addition, for a total of 220,000 square feet, as well as extensive renovations to make it handicapped accessible. The addition would require the demolition of a single-story warehouse to the rear of the tower.
Also envisioned is a land bridge to the Interlink so the garage could be used for off-street parking and provide pedestrian access to the station district and the airport on the opposite side of the tracks. Integlia put that cost in the range of $40 million to $50 million.
He said historic preservation tax credits would be helpful, although, from questions asked, there doesn’t appear to be any promises at this time. Integlia expects it could be six months to a year before a plan emerges, but uses could range from residences to a hotel.
Lewis hailed the state’s investment in the infrastructure as a catalyst for private investment and development. He said the next stage to state development in the area is to improve pedestrian access and improvements to the connector as the gateway to the state.
Recent activity over the Leviton property is sparking interest.
Bradford S. Dean, executive vice president, said that, soon after acquiring the building, he received a call from a major big box outlet asking if he would be interested in selling.
That’s not in the plan. The warehousing and distribution company, which is already operating from the property, had sought to buy the building in the past but got nowhere.
The company has already launched on a $1 million program to replace sections of the roof and “making it look like a new building.” The company will be relocating many of its Cumberland operations to Warwick. Dean estimated the company would add 30 to 35 new jobs as a result of its acquisition.