Beauparlant shares vision for ‘Heritage Canal District’

Beauparlant shares vision for ‘Heritage Canal District’

An artist’s rendering shows the “Heritage Canal District” envisioned by mayoral candidate and real estate developer Albert Beauparlant as the centerpiece of his campaign platform. The development, proposed near the Main Street Bypass and River Island Park, would include a hotel, amphitheater, canal and 1,300 apartment units as part of a new commercial center.
Update: He leaves mayor's race

Albert Beauparlant on Thursday announced he will no longer be a candidate for mayor. This story appeared earlier.

WOONSOCKET – A hotel modeled after a masterpiece in Old Quebec. A 1,000-unit luxury apartment complex. A canal walk where city residents browse shops and stroll the waterfront on summer evenings.

It might sound like the 20-year plan for a much larger – and more commercially successful – East Coast city, but Albert Beauparlant, a mayoral candidate and real estate developer with a flair for taking on large city projects, says he’s been working on the plan for Woonsocket’s own “Heritage Canal District” for the past five years. And, if elected mayor, he claims he could make his dream a reality and spark an economic boom for city residents.

The three-phase plan, Beauparlant said, grew out of extensive research into development projects in the slowly reviving Rust Belt cities of the Midwest as well as the larger but similarly mill-founded cities of Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill, Mass. At the heart of the project is a walkable canal district that would stretch from River Island Park up toward the Main Street Bypass, creating a second city center parallel to Main Street that would draw residential and commercial activity back to the city’s core.

Phase I would include a hotel modeled after Quebec’s Château Frontenac on the land that’s now River Island Park, while Phase Two would include a 3,500-seat amphitheater – large enough to attract big names – near what’s now the intersection of Truman Drive and Clinton Street. An exhibition hall and conference center linked to the Museum of Work and Culture and a canal park featuring monuments to the city’s cultural history would round out the creation of a new commercial center designed to return a sense of grandeur – and the cultural tourism dollars that go with it – to the city’s downtown.

“This is unique. This is where people are going to come,” said Beauparlant, describing the project in an interview with The Valley Breeze this week.

While the project – which comes with a $400 million price tag – might seem massive for a modest city, Beauparlant pointed to the ambitions of Woonsocket native Sidney Goldstein, who co-founded CVS in 1963. The city, he said, is at a precipice in its history and needs a jolt of new energy to revive not only its business community but its image in the eyes of the region.

“It’s going to take a project of this magnitude to turn this around,” he said.

Turning to practical details, Beauparlant said he would rely on a combination of federal and state tax credits, including the recent designation of some city neighborhoods as federal Qualified Opportunity Zones, to make the project attractive to investors and developers, credits he said could fund a significant portion. Woonsocket’s status as a distressed city, he said, could be the key to bringing in new development that would eventually lift it out of those conditions.

“The city’s demographics allows us to maximize various tax credits. Our poverty becomes an asset,” he explained.

A more difficult sticking point is Beauparlant’s exact role in the project should he be elected to office in November. As a property developer, Beauparlant has been working with architect John O’Hearn to create plans for the project and lobbying city officials for the support to get the work underway. It was Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s lack of support for the ambitious vision, he told The Breeze, that inspired him to run for office in the first place.

“She wouldn’t have anything to do with me, so I had to open my own door,” he said.

As mayor, he said, he would remove himself completely from the development side of the project and stand to make no money from an investment standpoint, but would plan to hire a public director who would handle oversight on the city’s end. The sheer length of the project – Phase I, he said, would not break ground for at least another three years – leaves many unanswered questions as to what would happen should he garner support for the plan while in office but return to development after the end of his public career.

Beauparlant pointed out the project could not move forward without full city support, as the city owns 85 percent of the land in question, but that, if successful, the development could bring in a new tax base to stabilize the city’s finances. With 1,000 new apartment units in the main development and 300 more along Main Street designed for young professionals with an income of $65,000 or higher, the project, he said, would bring an influx of residential buying power into the city of up to $162 million. Those professionals, he said, would come from the city’s own corporate parks as well as surrounding communities, with Woonsocket poised to become a prime residential base for workers commuting to to Providence, Boston and Worcester.

“We want to capture that market, that’s the important piece,” he said. “We have everything around us to make it happen.”

While he acknowledged the project may take some convincing to get voters and city councilors on board, Beauparlant pointed to his long track record of civic involvement as evidence of his personal investment in the city. He said he viewed the project as the height of his career, an opportunity to make a mark on city history.

“I do dream big for my city,” he said.

Comments

I applaud the gentleman for his vision; no one or no city ever became successful by dreaming small. The idea certainly has merit, for within 30 minutes of the city there are thousands of young professionals with money to spend. Building attractive housing would certainly generate growth - hope he is successful in his mayoral run.

Agree with “Veritas” above. For example, had Mayor Francis L. Lanctot not had a VISION, i. e., “big dreams”, the STADIUM THEATER would not exist, as it is today. WHY do some people always have to “cut up, ridicule and/or demean” those who tend to be creative and choose to express their ideas? Some ideas work, and some don't! Also, as we all know, Mayor Lanctot was a “very hard worker”----not just a “dreamer”!

There is a saying which FITS the low-spirited individuals very well........“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” AMEN!