Students present findings, take ideas on future of The Thread Factory

Students present findings, take ideas on future of The Thread Factory

Anna Cano Morales checks out some renderings from Roger Williams University students on the future of The Thread Factory. (Valley Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)
Cano Morales suggests an indoor recreation facility

PAWTUCKET - The sprawling mill complex is largely a blank canvas for future redevelopment, a relic of the past that could one day be transformed into an economic engine for Pawtucket and Central Falls.

A group of 10 students from Roger Williams University presented their preliminary recommendations for a mixed-use, transit-oriented redevelopment project at the Conant/Coats & Clark Thread Mill Complex, now a redevelopment project known as The Thread Factory on the Pawtucket/Central Falls line, at a public forum on March 20.

Amy Skrzek, a graduate student in the Historic Preservation Program at RWU, said the community workshop was the next step of an ongoing planning project for the site. Students wanted to gather information from people in the community to see how the site is valued.

Anna Cano Morales, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University and chairwoman of the Central Falls School District Board of Trustees, was leaving plenty of notes in the suggestion box on how the complex should be used.

Morales said she has a strong interest in the future of the complex, especially after the announced closing of Osram Sylvania in Central Falls, a city lighting manufacturer where her brother and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa's father worked for many years.

Morales would like to see many parties come to the table to have a hand in the future of the complex, working to preserve its historical character while making it economically viable.

She and others at the March 20 forum said they would like to see the owners of the property work to develop an indoor recreation center just like in the old days when mill owners made recreation space available to their employees. Any one of the buildings on site would suffice for such a complex and the property could even accommodate a turf field in the center.

Being an advocate for community life in Pawtucket, Central Falls and North Providence, she knows there are very few places for local young people to go for indoor recreational activities, said Morales. A sports complex could serve a great need in those three communities while being a good source of income for the property.

About 100 people, including Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Diossa, attended the March 20 event.

Aaron Hertzberg, executive director of the Pawtucket Foundation, said he liked several of the ideas by students to turn the 12-acre property into a productive asset once again.

The old mill, which first opened as the Conant Thread Factory back in 1868, kept expanding through 1952, when a merger led to the formation of Coats & Clark.

Conceptually, Roger Williams students see the future of the property as a mixed-use community within easy walking distance of a future planned commuter rail stop. The property would have a core commercial area with a mix of retail, office, residential, open space and other public uses. A walkable environment would make it convenient for residents and employees to travel by transit, bicycle, foot, or car.

Students proposed a series of recreational paths connecting the complex and surrounding area, an important ingredient to "reactivating such a large site and helping to make it feel like part of the community," according to Hertzberg.

It's all theoretical at this point, said Hertzberg, but one of the most innovative ideas presented was to connect Pine Street with a bridge over the train tracks. The new span would connect to a multi-decked parking garage with integrated bus station.

"I credit the student for thinking outside the box and recognizing how important a connection to Pine Street could be in providing access to the proposed rail station," said Hertzberg.

Several students had good ideas for pedestrian and bike corridors that would connect the complex to the proposed commuter rail station nearby, said Hertzberg, and those connections will be vital to stimulating transit-oriented development in as wide an area as possible.

Hertzberg said he also liked many of the designs for future development to fill open spaces along Dexter Street and to maintain the look of the area.

Stephany Hessler, project coordinator at the Community Partnerships Center at RWU, said that all ideas presented by students are not formal proposals and do not presume to have special knowledge of the feasibility for a future train station.

"The purpose of the workshop was to get ideas for the reuse of the complex while also looking at the potential of surrounding sites near the proposed station that are underdeveloped or underutilized," said Hessler.

The Providence Journal reported in February that The Thread Mill Complex and the Hope Artiste Village owed Pawtucket and Central Falls a combined $776,306 in property taxes.

Pawtucket officials have since worked out a deal where the owners of the Conant Mill property will pay off the $241,616 still owed by next January. Central Falls officials, who are owed $410,000, are trying to reach a similar agreement, according to The Journal.

Representatives from Urban Smart Growth, which is directing the redevelopment of both the Hope Artiste Village and The Thread Factory, have allowed the students from RWU on the property to complete their study.

Find slides from the March 20 presentation with this story at www.valleybreeze.com .

A portion of the Conant/Coats & Clark Thread Mill on Pine Street in Pawtucket.