Promise tied to Morley Field sale: Up to 500 new jobs

Promise tied to Morley Field sale: Up to 500 new jobs

PAWTUCKET – The latest estimate for the number of permanent new jobs expected to be housed at JK Equities’ future Pawtucket distribution center is between 400 and 500, say representatives for the company, far higher than the original 130-150 they predicted.

Company co-founder Jordan Karlik, speaking to the City Council’s property subcommittee last week on a proposed purchase and sale agreement for Morley Field, said they believe a new 159,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center at 1 Moshassuck St. next to Morley “will be an economic engine” for Pawtucket, with the potential for up to 500 permanent jobs “on two sites that currently produce zero.”

Though the path toward acquiring the 5-acre Morley Field property and adding it to the company’s property at the former Microfibres site at 1 Moshassuck St. will likely be a “long and involved process,” said Karlik, they have the willingness and endurance to go through it with Pawtucket.

He said the company is drawing significant interest from national tenants for its project, highlighting the need to add Morley Field to create space for employee parking, vans for delivery, and areas for staging. He said that strong interest from companies led to JK Equities thinking about adding Morley Field after going through the earlier city approval process for the Microfibres site.

Assistant Planning Director Jay Rosa and City Solicitor Frank Milos went over specifics of a purchase and sale agreement that the property subcommittee eventually voted unanimously to forward to the full council for approval, telling members that this was a first and important step in a multi-step process that the city will go through, with the council maintaining oversight through many aspects.

This is a fairly standard purchase agreement, said Milos, allowing the parties to move forward to meet various conditions.

Sean Coffey, representing JK Equities, said the company was looking for the opportunity to move forward in parallel with the city’s efforts to meet state and federal requirements for replacing Morley Field before selling it.

Councilor Alexis Schuette asked about specifics related to requirements for relocating the city recreation facility. Rosa responded that finding a facility of equal or greater value at an equal or greater size is a baseline for any proposal, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has indicated that a “host of other actions” can improve a proposal or count as points against it, including whether the new facility would service the same neighborhood, environmental justice factors, accessibility, and walkability.

The goal is to have a very strong proposal, said Rosa, adding that the city has been told that the more points behind a proposal, the faster the review generally is.

Councilor Terry Mercer said he sees this project as a win-win for the city, particularly with the promised jobs and the requirement that a new recreation facility be acquired and developed likely on the west side of the city to replace a Morley Field facility that’s fallen into disrepair and doesn’t get as much use as it once did.

“I do think it’s time to maybe think about other better recreation facilities over there,” he said.

Representatives for JK Equities also briefly discussed some improvements that would be made to traffic flow in the area as part of the project, addressing concerns from council members about traffic.

Councilor Mike Araujo said he liked hearing the news that the owners plan to make the turn onto North Main Street an easier one, saying it’s always a challenge. The word of increased jobs due to an earlier underestimate is also great news, he said, and the addition of temporary construction jobs is also a great thing.

Karlik said he would also expect a “significant trickle-down effect” from adding the business, including through support of local businesses by employees, including restaurants in the area. He said the owners are excited about the partnership with Pawtucket.

Mercer asked whether the owners might prioritize hiring city residents at the new facility, and Karlik said that would happen on both the construction side and permanent job side. JK Equities does business up and down the eastern seaboard, he said, and employment connected to the communities it does business in is always important.

The Breeze reported last week that the council’s property subcommittee would review the proposed purchase and sale agreement that would see the city sell off Morley Field in Woodlawn to JK Equities for $550,000.

Under the draft agreement approved July 22, JK Equities would pay the city certain costs associated with relocating the existing public recreation facilities, at an estimated price tag of $1.5 million.

“The overall goal for the city, in coordination with JK Equities, is to establish an enhanced public recreation amenity that exceeds the minimum replacement requirements established by (the National Park Service and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management),” Rosa wrote in advance of the meeting.

Because the athletic facility built in the 1970s is a designated public recreation facility and partially funded by a National Park Service grant, it is restricted to recreational use only unless the city follows a strict recreation conversion process managed by the state and federal agencies to create a replacement recreation amenity for the community that is of equal or greater size and equal or greater value than Morley Field.