Developer describes a life of luxury in proposed apartment complex

Developer describes a life of luxury in proposed apartment complex

SMITHFIELD - A Cranston-based company that has developed some $5 billion worth of hotels, luxury apartments and other projects throughout the country wants to build 264 upscale rental units, including concierge service and an amenity-filled clubhouse with a resort-style swimming pool and private theater, on part of the property occupied by the Colonial Toyota dealership at 550 George Washington Highway.

Representatives of the Procaccianti Group, one of whose projects is The Residences, the 31-story residence building connected to the Omni Providence Hotel, told the Smithfield Town Council Oct. 1 that the firm would buy 30 acres at the Lincoln town line, with the auto dealership continuing to operate on the remaining 10 acres.

According to Carl B. Lisa, the development company's lawyer, Procaccianti would develop only 13 acres, leaving wetlands on the property open. The project would be a mixed-use entity also including commercial units that could range from a coffee shop to professional offices, and would require zoning changes.

Michael A. Voccola, a company vice president, described the proposed apartments as offering high-end service levels including a 24-hour concierge office that would indulge the whims of tenants who might want "a fancy table at WaterFire" or last-minute tickets to a production at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

"It's more than just a place to live; it's the whole lifestyle experience, and we would bring that level of lifestyle to Smithfield," he said.

Stressing that the plan is still conceptual, company representatives described a project that could cost up to $35 million to build and would consist of studio apartments, one- and two-bedroom units, and some "two-and-one-half bedroom" units with extra space for use as a home office.

The firm, which owned the Omni Providence Hotel when it was known as the Westin, envisions its Smithfield units renting from $1,600 to more than $2,000 a month.

Apartments would be located in 11 three-story buildings, according to a concept plan the company showed to the council, although the actual configurations could change in a final plan, company officials said.

The clubhouse would include a community room, a business office for resident use, and a 20- to 40-seat stadium-format theater tenants could use to screen material they generate themselves, according to Voccola.

He said the market for such high-end development is "virtually untouched" locally but has become a company trademark elsewhere. Procaccianti's properties are located in 28 states from New England to California and include a wide spectrum of real estate uses from residential, to retail and office, to industrial.

At this stage, Voccola said, the company is seeking informal council reaction before moving ahead with a detailed plan.

"We're asking if the town is interested, and if so we will take it to the next level, but we will withdraw if not. We don't want to go where we're not wanted," he told the council.

Council members seemed impressed with the company's idea, but jumped on what they said was a potential problem - that adding 264 luxury units in town would skew local progress toward boosting the percentage of affordable housing units here.

Smithfield is under state mandate to increase its percentage of affordable units, which now total about 400, or 5 percent, to 10 percent by 2030, and according to the Planning Department has fallen behind in making progress.

"I'm not against the project - it looks beautiful, but we're stuck in the middle," said Councilor Maxine Cavanagh.

Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr. termed the plan "very impressive, but it could put us behind the eight ball for affordable housing - we would need 50 affordable units elsewhere. That's a hurdle that will have to be addressed."

Attorney Lisa said the town might look at private and municipal partnerships as a way to develop additional affordable units, but argued that high-end developers will back away from investing in Smithfield if they are required to add affordable housing to their projects.

Voccola suggested that since the proposed project will generate significant tax dollars for the town, some of that might be used as seed money for an affordable housing program. He said his firm doesn't deal with affordable housing and is not in a position to do so in Smithfield, although he added, "We'll be happy to look at it and see if we can come up with a solution."

Ralph Izzi, Procaccianti's marketing and communications director, told The Valley Breeze that if municipal officials embrace the project, the company will commission a fiscal impact study from an independent third party to estimate its net value to the town after the cost of public services. He said he expected the figure to be "in the hundreds of thousands per year."

Asked if the company would seek a tax break, Izzi replied, "We are not making any such request at this time."

Councilor Suzanna Alba asked what would happen if the apartments failed to attract tenants, and Voccola replied that the units would be built only 24 at a time, after marketing efforts aimed at likely sources of referral such as Fidelity Investments.

He said the units could be converted to condominiums if they didn't attract renters, but added that feasibility studies indicate a market exists for high-end rental units.

Voccola said commercial aspects of the project would include relatively small units of no more than about 7,000 square feet and the property would be enhanced by the company's orientation toward attractive landscaping. He also cited job creation, both in the construction stage and later in operations.

Public water and sewerage is available on the property, he said.

According to Lisa, the property Procaccianti would buy is owned by JA Smithfield Investment Realty LLC.