Event space tops list of potential uses for Armory building

Event space tops list of potential uses for Armory building

The Armory building at 316 South Main St. has had several interested buyers since it was put on the market last month, including a potential event space and residential development. The building was constructed in 1912. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – The long-vacant Armory building on South Main Street may soon get a second life as an event space – that is, if the hopes of several city officials for the property pan out.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt told city councilors last week that she was recently approached by an individual who wants to purchase the historic property, which was put up for sale last month by St. James Baptist Church. The interested buyer, she said, expressed plans to turn the former Armory into an event space and wanted to gauge the city’s willingness to enter into a tax stabilization agreement or some other sort of financial incentive for the project.

“It does appear that, A, it’s serious, and B, it looks promising,” she said.

Though she declined to name the potential buyer, the planned use, she said, would be similar to properties the person has developed in other locations. The buyer, she said, “understands the significant investment that needs to be made in the property” and has an aggressive timeline that would include closing on the building within the next few months.

“This is definitely a first quarter 2020 (project),” she said.

The potential buyer might be serious about a purchase, but he’s not the only one looking at the property. Since putting the building on the market last month, the church has given tours to potential buyers “almost daily,” said Rev. Jeffrey Thomas. Realtor Garrett Mancieri said he recently toured the property with a client interested in purchasing it for a residential development. Another city resident, Meagan Gifford, recently started a GoFundMe page to turn the building into a shelter and community center, though as of Monday, that effort had yet to receive any donations.

Thomas said the church has been in discussion with several potential buyers.

“Our talks have gotten serious with a couple of buyers,” he said last Thursday, Jan. 2.

Councilors last week expressed their tentative support for a tax stabilization agreement on the property, though they said they’d want more details on the project before signing any paperwork. Council President Daniel Gendron indicated he has no intention of seeing the building turn into another housing complex.

“I’m glad to hear you say it’s not leaning toward residential, because I’d be more inclined to support something that’s another use,” he said.

There was also discussion about amending the city’s zoning code to accommodate development at the property, since the building is not currently included in the city’s Downtown Overlay District.

Though the building will likely require significant renovations, its 17,500 square feet offer a promising canvas to buyers interested in historical preservation. Built in 1912, the building was one of 18 state armories located across Rhode Island. In 1997, the state sold the building to St. James Baptist , which had plans to turn it into a community center. At the time, said Thomas, church leaders envisioned the building as a “one-stop shop” where residents could receive different services and were in talks with the Alan Shawn Feinstein Foundation about funding.

Fast-forward 20 years, and those plans haven’t panned out. The funding didn’t materialize, and with the property in danger of becoming a strain on the church, Thomas said they made the decision last year to sell.

“It’s all about money. So, reluctantly, we had to make a decision,” he said.

According to Baldelli-Hunt, the buyer currently in discussions with the city about development incentives first expressed interest in the property two years ago and was quick to reach out when the for-sale sign went up last month. The property, she said, has also benefited from recent development in the area, including a new Dunkin’ Donuts on South Main Street and a recently opened restaurant at Market Square.

“There’s been new development on South Main Street, movement at Market Square, and the building itself is just stunning,” she said.