From abandoned mill to commercial venue: Landing project aims high

From abandoned mill to commercial venue: Landing project aims high

A rendering of the future Landing project on Broad Street in Central Falls.
Renovated Central Falls site to house Tourism Council and possibly a brewery and restaurant

CENTRAL FALLS – All who spoke at last Thursday’s groundbreaking for a project to turn the Central Falls Landing from an abandoned mill into a vibrant commercial center on the south bank of the Blackstone River agreed: Central Falls is making a comeback.

The project from the Tai-O Group includes renovating and adding onto the Landing, a nearly 7,000-square-foot mill at 1420 Broad St. that has been vacant since 2008, and building a 3,000-square-foot, one-story building for retail space at the intersection of Broad and Madeira streets. The renewed Landing is expected to open in spring of 2018.

The site was originally the location of the American Supply Company, then a braided rug factory and, most recently, an ice cream store.

As part of a key project on the Broad Street corridor, which includes Central Falls, Cumberland and Pawtucket, the Landing property will be cleaned of pollution on the site. Backers are also promising improved access to the water and the Blackstone River Bikeway.

Calling the Landing “the front door of the Blackstone River” and one of the few public access points to the 45-mile river, Robert Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, lauded, at the June 29 groundbreaking, the economic value this project will add to the river. Billington credited the mayors and planning departments of Central Falls, Cumberland and Pawtucket for collaborating to make the Broad Street area “great again.”

“Things are happening,” Billington said.

The Tourism Council is the first tenant to sign a lease for the renovated building near the Cumberland town line, which is expected to also house a brewery and a restaurant, said Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.

“This historical [site] that received power from the Blackstone River and provided jobs is now a vacant and beat-down mill,” he said. “Soon enough, the land will be reinvigorated and will serve community … [as a] welcoming commercial destination. … The river access will allow more families to learn more about this gem.”

Jevon Chan, partner with the Tai-O Group, spoke with The Breeze and credited the collective efforts of a number of entities for “this amazing feat of teamwork.”

Chan estimated the cost of the entire project, including renovation, construction and brownfield cleanup, at between $3 million and $4 million, with slightly more than $1 million of that for cleanup. The numbers are still being tweaked, he said.

“Follow the money” is a common political phrase, and James Byrne, of the Environmental Protection Agency, said of the brownfields funding, “This is money that goes where no other money dares to go.” By assessing, cleaning up and setting the table for development, brownfields money leverages other funds and partnerships with state and local governments and private sector developers. “For every $1 EPA spends for brownfields (cleanup), we see a $17 return on investment,” he added.

Billington congratulated Chan and the Tai-O Group for fully transforming old mill buildings on Roosevelt Avenue into sites where people live and work on the banks of the Blackstone River.

The Tai-O Group, serving as general contractor on the renovation and building project, will have a 50-year land lease (with two options to renew) from Central Falls, which will retain ownership of the land and the docks at the river, said Peter Friedrichs, director of the Central Falls Department of Planning and Economic Development. Central Falls sold the building for $1 to the Tai-O Group and will receive annual rent equivalent to the taxes that would otherwise be collected, which vary depending on the land value assessments, he said. Currently, exclusive of the docks, the land is assessed at $233,500, he added.

Other than the Tourism Council, no tenants have signed a lease yet and no construction company has been chosen, said Friedrichs. The Tourism Council employs a dozen people, while a brewery and restaurant together might employ up to a dozen people, he surmised.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said this project demonstrates that great things happen when everyone rows in the same direction. She urged Diossa to launch more projects like this one that create jobs and encourage tourism.

Julie Oakley, of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, agreed that this is another excellent economic development opportunity. She noted that RIDOT and Central Falls have worked together on other projects linking economic development with transportation improvements, including the Dexter Street improvements, the planned Pawtucket-Central Falls Commuter Rail Station and the $11.5 million Broad Street Regeneration Initiative.

At a groundbreaking for the Landing project last Thursday, June 29, are, from left, Tai-O Group partner Jevon Chan and President Louis Yip, Director of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Janet Coit, Gov. Gina Raimondo, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, State Sen. Elizabeth “Betty” Crowley and EPA Region I environmental brownfields scientist James Byrne. They participated in a ceremonial dig at the Central Falls Landing. Not pictured, but also bearing shovels, were Central Falls City Council President Robert Ferri, Blackstone Valley Tourism Council President Robert Billington and Julie Oakley, of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. (Breeze photo by Nancy Kirsch)