City officials trade blame over middle school project

City officials trade blame over middle school project

WOONSOCKET – Four weeks after the developer missed a crucial deadline for the Woonsocket Middle School redevelopment project, city officials are pointing fingers over why the latest attempt to redevelop the former school building appears to be coming to an end.

On Monday, City Councilor Denise Sierra and Acting Director of Planning and Development Steven Lima presented alternate timelines as to why the Tai-O Group, a Central Falls-based developer, was unable to meet an Oct. 10 deadline to submit plans for the proposed residential development. The atmosphere was tense as Sierra accused the administration of putting up roadblocks to the project and Lima said the developer had repeatedly failed to meet deadlines or submit required paperwork.

Lima told city councilors he attempted to reach out to the company as the October date approached but did not receive a response. Eventually, he said, he spoke with an architect hired by the Tai-O Group, who said they’d been instructed not to do any further work on the project. On Oct. 25, he emailed the City Council to tell them the contract was null and void.

Sierra took issue with this version of events, stating it was the city, and not the developer, who pulled the plug on the project.

Reached for comment Wednesday morning, Tai-O Group President Louis Yip acknowledged he’d missed a deadline but said the company never contacted the administration to say they were pulling out of the project. Yip said he’d been in Hong Kong for much of the last month and was surprised when he returned 10 days ago to find an article in The Call reporting the project was dead. At this point, he said, he has not received a cease and desist letter from the city and will have to consult with his partner on the next steps.

“I want to make the final decision within 10 days,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, Sierra leveled criticism directly at Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, claiming the mayor told lies about the city’s interactions with the group. Baldelli-Hunt responded sharply to the accusation, questioning Sierra’s own attachment to the project and saying that aside from a small misunderstanding between her and Lima, when she thought the group had reached out to the city in October rather than the other way around, there was no misinformation.

“We have nothing to lie about in this administration,” she said. “Look at the process we’ve made, and we’ve done it all in a very transparent way and will continue to do so. Your issue is with a group that is not performing, has not performed, and Director Lima stood at the podium and told the city the truth about this project.”

Baldelli-Hunt added, “If anyone is lying, it’s you to cover your fanny for all of your involvement in this project.”

In 2016, the City Council voted to award a bid for $470,000 to the Tai-O Group to redevelop the Park Place building into a residential complex. At the time, a majority of the council, including Sierra, supported the Tai-O proposal, while the administration supported an alternate plan to turn the building into a senior living complex. In February 2017, the council authorized the administration to sign a purchase and sales agreement, and the following November, the two groups agreed upon terms and conditions. In October 2018, more than two years after the initial bid, the groups signed a purchase and sales agreement.

In April, Yip approached the council to request additional financial concessions, including lowering the tax assessment on the building by $1 million. Two months later, the council agreed to lower the assessment by $500,000, setting the Oct. 10 deadline at that time.

Comments

Article fails to explain why the Mayor was called a liar. In the Call's article she stated that she received a call from the group that they were pulling out. My Yip verified that no call was made to the Mayor. That is why Denise became upset.

The mayor LBH has been caught in so many lies and corrupt acts over the years ... WAKE UP PEOPLE !!!! She can't be trusted and has Zero credibility ...

Aside from this middle school fiasco, I also want to address the fact that there is absolutely no new business on the horizon for our city. If you drive into North Smithfield, North Attleboro and other neighboring towns and cities, you see massive amounts of building, new business opening up, etc. What do you see in Woonsocket? Not much. There have been open areas where people could be building - across from Hamlet Middle School, on Manville Rd., a deep hole on the corner of Social and Diamond Hill, and of course the EMPTY plazas. We have no real supermarket, no new manufactoring of any kind. What is she doing to broaden the tax base? What is she doing to stop our city from going under? Please do something, or resign and let someone else take over who can do better.