Developer plans arts center for Woonsocket Armory

Developer plans arts center for Woonsocket Armory

Developer Brian Thibeault has signed a purchase and sales agreement for the Armory building at 316 South Main St. and plans to turn it into an arts center. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – A New Hampshire-based developer with a track record of reviving historic spaces is in the process of purchasing the Woonsocket Armory and wants to turn it into an arts center.

Brian Thibeault, who owns the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center and The Times building in Pawtucket, has signed a purchase and sales agreement with St. James Baptist Church for the historic property at 316 South Main St.

Thibeault told city councilors during a meeting on Monday he plans to turn the building into an arts center and event space similar to the armory in Pawtucket, with a large hall for rent and smaller rooms to lease to local businesses.

The Valley Breeze is committed to keeping quality news stories like this one free to our readers. You can be a huge part of this local journalism success story by making a one-time or monthly contribution to what we do every week. Thank you as always for reading.

“That’s kind of what we had for the idea of the Woonsocket Armory,” he said. “Above all, the building needs to get saved in my eyes. It’s just deteriorating very quickly.”

The former armory building has been vacant since at least 1997, when the state sold it to the neighboring St. James Baptist Church. At the time, the church planned to turn it into a community center, but those plans never panned out.

In recent years, said Thibeault, a leaking roof has wreaked havoc on the interior of the building, contributing to mold and the collapse of some floors.

“It’s going to be a long road, no doubt about it,” he said.

Speaking to The Breeze, Thibeault said he first contacted the church about buying the property a few years ago, but at the time, the building wasn’t for sale. Then, last year, a for-sale sign went up on the front of the property, sparking the interest of several buyers, including Thibeault.

Thibeault declined to disclose the purchase price but said he anticipates closing on the deal soon.

The developer told councilors on Monday he is looking for a tax stabilization agreement to make the project viable. He also hopes to secure historic grant funds for the project and plans to begin working on the roof immediately after closing to prevent any further damage.

Councilors expressed general support for the plan and said they looked forward to working out the details in the months ahead. Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said she’s been in touch with Thibeault since he first expressed interest in the property several years ago.

“We do know that this particular building has great character,” she said. “The architecture is beautiful, the plan for the building over the years didn’t come to fruition, and we’re at the point where the church, St. James Church, is looking to sell the property.

Thibeault, who owns several housing and commercial projects around New England, purchased the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center in 2010. Last year, he signed an agreement with R.I.S.N. Operations to purchase The Times building for $550,000. He told The Breeze this week he’s still working out plans for that property, but is in talks with Pawtucket city officials and is leaning toward a loft-style housing development.