Front building in Le Moulin complex condemned, businesses search for new home

Front building in Le Moulin complex condemned, businesses search for new home

Steve Mowry, left, and Rene Menard unload an elevator filled with equipment from Tommy Williams second floor carpentry shop. (Valley Breeze photos by David Wuerth)

WOONSOCKET - A once vibrant complex of arts-related businesses in Market Square suddenly went dark this week leaving some 20 organizations searching for a new home.

And those waiting for all to be back to normal at Le Moulin or "the mill" in French as it's known, may be in for some disappointment.

On Tuesday, the city condemned one of the two buildings at 68 South Main St. for numerous violations, including failure to obtain a certificate of occupancy for many of the businesses located there.

"She has a habit of just moving people in," said Planning Director Joel Mathews talking about owner Marie Deschenes.

Condemnation is just the latest chapter in a drama that's unfolded over the past two weeks for the business owners that made their home there.

The two historic buildings that make up Le Moulin were constructed in the mid-1800s and once served as part of the Falls Yarn Complex. Deschenes, owner of the phone and cable installation company Vogue Communications, purchased the sprawling former mill properties in 2008 and has worked for the past eight years to create a "artist enclave" there, pulling in tenants including Blackstone Valley Fencing Academy and RiverzEdge Arts Project, an award-winning youth development program.

According to Mathews, utility company National Grid cut service to the buildings for non-payment of bills on Wednesday, April 9. The planning director did not comment on the amount of the outstanding utility bill stating only that he knew it was "significant."

"It was very, very large," Mathews told The Breeze. "It's not like she just got behind for a month."

But late bills, he says, are not the only problem at Le Moulin.

"The front building is being condemned and cannot be reoccupied until she has a new electrical service entrance and a new transformer," Mathews said. "They've been cited for four or five years on this, and it continues to become more acute."

That item alone, he said, will cost the investor around $150,000.

A Notice of Unsafe Conditions from the city's building inspection office dated Oct. 18, 2012 explained, "You are hearby notified the property at 68 South Main St. is unsafe for occupancy. The electrical system has been cited for non-compliance, overloading and for code violations. These included an entire overhaul of the electrical system including new secondary transformers."

The letter gave the owner seven days to make the necessary corrections.

Still, Mathews says, city officials were hesitant to condemn the property and tried to give Deschenes time to remedy the significant issues at the two-building complex.

"The city has tried to go as far as we could to work with the owner, but its a hazardous situation," he said. "We are very concerned about the safety of those that are in that building."

The structure also needs work on a parapet wall, where bricks are beginning to scale away creating a danger of falling debris. Building 1 also has no second means of egress, and most of the small businesses there have no certificate of occupancy, according to Mathews.

Tenants in building 1 included RiverzEdge, Frolicking Goddess Craft Studio and Yen's Handmade, a gift shop specializing in handmade jewelry, along with the newly opened CMM Picture Frame and Gallery.

The Breeze reported last week that many of the former tenants had recently moved out including Yarnia, The Opulent Squid, Triple T's, and Duck Cove Creations.

The remaining shocked business owners scrambled for ways to keep their programs and services running this week, while city officials worked to help find them new, secure homes in the downtown Woonsocket.

The electrical shut down closed RiverzEdge on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, the organization posted a Facebook message to program participants.

"This has forced us into a flurry of activity to get all the RiverzEdge programs back and up and running as soon as possible, while we are also trying to figure out what is going on in the building," they wrote. "We are truly sorry this happened and we were not in touch with you for so long, and we are devastated that we can't have programs, give you your much needed jobs and safe place."

The Museum of Work and Culture offered space to some of the vendors, serving as a venue for events and classes over the weekend.

"The community has opened their arms and opened their space to the misplaced businesses," said Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. "People are doing everything they can to help."

City Hall also lent a hand with Human Services Director Linda Plays and City Planner Jennifer Siciliano introducing landlords along Main Street to the misplaced businesses The mayor said her staff had been working to create an inventory of the city's downtown vacancies which was used to get in touch with building owners.

"We're trying to ensure that operations continue," said Mathews.

On Wednesday night after The Breeze's print deadline, the City Council was scheduled to meet and vote on a resolution to allow RiverzEdge to use a decommissioned school on Social Street.

While the condemnation of Building 1 was inevitable Mathews said, the city will allow the two first floor tenants in building 2 to remain open: Stage Right Studios and Woonsocket Awning. That building, he said, needs a roof replacement and the owner will be given 60 days to start the project.

That doesn't ensure, however, that Deschenes has permanently settled her problem there with National Grid. While Mathews has said that the electrical cutoff was unrelated to the code violations, Deschenes has told reporters that the power issue was created by the need for repairs.

"It's very coincidental that she received a shutoff notice a week ago," said Mathews. "I don't think the electric company even knew about the violations."

A National Grid representative said the company cannot comment on customer accounts and could not verify the reason for the cut off. But on Tuesday, power to the buildings was turned on for three days to allow tenants to get their belongings.

"This is all really a shame because the building was doing really well as far as the number and type of tenants that were in there," Mathews said.

When contacted, Deschenes said she could not comment on the situation at this time.

"It is very reluctantly that we take this action," said Mathews of the condemnation Tuesday. "It's a very unfortunate situation."

C. Marc Morelle, owner of CMM Picture Frame and Gallery, packs up his shop in Le Moulin after only being open for less than two months.

Comments

Who was the mayor who allowed Le Moulin to not have to repair/update the building before now? So far, in this administration, 2 buildings along Main Street, which were supposed to be rehabilitated have been condemned or am I wrong. Please advise.