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Eagle Square project spreading its wings

What began as a proposal for a shopping plaza with a supermarket has expanded to include condominiums, office space and artists' lofts.

BY GREGORY SMITH

Journal Staff Writer - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Six years ago a couple of developers came to the Valley neighborhood to tear down a throng of red-brick mill buildings and to build a suburban-style shopping center anchored by a supermarket.

After surviving a prolonged controversy over historical preservation and making a deal with the city, what they wound up with at Eagle Street, Atwells Avenue and Valley Street is quite different:

A supermarket and 21 to 23 other stores and restaurants, plus residential condominiums, professional office space, and, potentially, work and display spaces for artists.

A number of mill buildings were sacrificed for the project, called Eagle Square, but all or most of four mill buildings were saved for their historical value. The four are being renovated or even reconstructed.

And two of the components that the developers never intended to build, the 40 condominiums and the professional office space, have turned out to be hot items.

Gene Beaudoin, who is building the project with partner Barry Feldman, said that soon after they began to advertise the condos, they quickly presold 13. At this point, the loft-style units are nothing more than raw space in a reclaimed mill.

And all of the professional office space has been booked.

The condominiums have been so popular, Beaudoin said, that the partners are considering rehabilitating a mill at a nearby site to build more.

"My phone rings once an hour all week long with calls from people who want to buy one of these condos," based only on a tiny classified advertisement in The Providence Journal, Beaudoin said.

At Eagle Square, there will be one- and two-bedroom condos, some configured as two-level townhouses with a mezzanine overlooking the bottom floor, selling for $185,000 to $295,000. Most are in the $215,000 to $225,000 range.

Eagle Square is 75-percent built and is expected to be complete by mid-June. The cost of the development has grown to $40 million.

In contrast to the condos and the offices, however, the artist lofts have been a dud.

Beaudoin said he has advertised the space at $15 per square foot and has had no takers. The $15, which he called a below-market price, as required by the deal with the city, includes the cost of heating, taxes and common areas.

"The experts are telling us that we have a real uphill battle," said Steven G. Triedman, a spokesman for the developers. Artists seem to want live/work space -- Eagle Square has work-only -- or they cannot afford the $15-per-foot cost, he said.

What is affordable for artists, Beaudoin added, would not cover the developer's costs.

The apparent problem is emblematic of the city's struggle to accommodate the arts community in old mills that are costly to make safe as living places.

Artists and their boosters were among the more outspoken members of a coalition that mobilized to fight the original plan for the shopping center. They were aroused in part because a colony of young artists in a derelict mill, dubbed Fort Thunder, was evicted.

In the compromise that settled the battle, the administration of Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. insisted that the project include work and display spaces for artists. It was understood that they would have to pay for their spaces, though.

Beaudoin said he does not know what would be done with the artist work/display spaces if they cannot be rented. According to the deal with the city, the developers would need permission to put the space to other use.

They probably could not be made residential condos, he said, because there would be no remaining indoor parking to offer buyers.

Of the 10 buildings in the development, four are rehabilitated: the former Uncas Manufacturing mill, the former Crawford Garden Supplies mill, the former American Woolen mill (Fort Thunder), and a small former mill office. The ground floors of the Uncas Manufacturing and American Woolen mills have been extended to provide the open spaces needed for retail stores.

The other six buildings, including a Shaw's supermarket, are entirely new construction. At the urging of city officials and critics of the project, the developers designed the new construction to harmonize with the mills, using brick on the outside and mill-like architectural details.

One of the four floors in the Crawford Garden Supplies mill and one of the four floors in the Uncas Manufacturing mill were earmarked for artist work/display spaces.

The rest of the Crawford Garden Supplies mill and two of the three floors in the American Woolen mill will be devoted to condos.

Varying in size from 920 square feet to 1,500 square feet, the condos will feature maple floors, exposed brick walls, oversized windows and stainless-steel kitchens with granite countertops.

In the Crawford mill, the ceilings will be 17 feet high. And some of the American Woolen mill units will have 500-square-foot terraces laid out on the roof of a Staples store.

All the condo parking will be inside the American Woolen building. Residents of that building will be able to take an elevator directly to and from the garage.

That building requires drastic reconstruction: The entire wooden superstructure is being replaced with steel, and the dilapidated tarpaper and wood roof is being replaced with a rubber membrane roof.

What was a four-story building has been made a three-story building to accommodate the high ceilings of the Staples store.

As for how the condos and office space came to be, Beaudoin recalled that it took a year to negotiate with the Cianci administration which mills would be preserved, among other issues.

"We wound up with a lot of square footage that we hadn't planned on using," Beaudoin said.

It is not unusual to mix offices with retail, so that was one option. And the developers noted that residential condos were selling well at the refurbished Monohasset Mill, on the other side of Eagle Street, so that became the other new ingredient.

The condos have been selling, he said, because Eagle Square has ample parking and because mill or loft-style condos are popular and in short supply in the Providence metropolitan area.

Renting at $21 per square foot, mostly in the Uncas Manufacturing mill, the office space has been snapped up by a doctor, an accounting firm, and sales companies.

Software companies also are interested, and Beaudoin said the former mill office, which was set aside as restaurant space, might be devoted to offices instead.

About 170,000 square feet of space would be retail; 50,000 for residential; nearly 40,000 for offices and potentially 24,000 for artists. The figures exclude the 7,000-square-foot mill office.

From The Providence Journal

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Eagle Square to boast something for everyone

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Development of a Shaw's supermarket was the main goal in building Eagle Square. That opened in March 2003.

Also open are a Blockbuster video store; Curves, a fitness center for women; a Radio Shack store; an office of H&R Block; PCX and J. Silver, apparel stores, and Expressions, a shoe store.

To come are Staples; Mattress Giant; a Subway sandwich shop; Galaxie, an Asian restaurant; Popeye's, a fried-chicken fast-food restaurant; T-Nail, a nail salon; a bank that co-developer Gene Beaudoin would not identify; a dry cleaner/coin-operated laundry; a Cingular Wireless store and three or four other stores or restaurants not yet signed up.

A Dunkin' Donuts shop continues to operate in its longtime spot at Eagle Street and Atwells Avenue, but it is expected soon to move into an adjacent newly constructed building.

In the smallest building that was saved -- the former mill office overlooking the Woonasquatucket River -- the developers plan one or two more restaurants with outdoor seating and water view, or offices.

From The Providence Journal

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If cities and towns all over NE would consider something like this it would go a long way toward addressing the housing shortage.

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I drove by Eagle Square the other day, and saw lofts for sale..

I was wondering.. Don't you think it would be weird living in the middle of Eagle Square? To me there would be very little privacy, and other than the river, your view would be a sea of parking spaces..

Or would it be perfect New Urbanism?

You have public transportation right there, a super market, many shops and restaurants, you can walk to Fed hill, and everything else...

Thoughts?

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I've stood in the parking lot and looked up at the lofts and thought it was a bit strange. It's kind of like living in a shopping centre, the buildings are not fronting streets, but rather parking lots. But I think the character of the buildings and the ammenities at the location such as the grocery store outway that oddity. It's not the activity on your stoop kind of urbanism, but it is urban.

I'd live there, but I'm not really interested in a loft style apartment/home. When I was young and single that would've been good, but living with someone, you need rooms and doors to maintain some of your own space sometimes.

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I think a lot of these mill spaces are so expensive to rehab that it just may not be possible to allow for things lie affordable artist space.

Someone else floated this thought and I like it. Artist groups need to get together and build their own space, even if it's new construction (which may be the cheaper route). They really can't expect anyone else to be looking out for them. If the city/state wants to encourage that development, they could make property tax guarantees so that once the artists gentrify a neighbourhood, they aren't priced out by property taxes.

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I think a lot of these mill spaces are so expensive to rehab that it just may not be possible to allow for things lie affordable artist space.

Someone else floated this thought and I like it. Artist groups need to get together and build their own space, even if it's new construction (which may be the cheaper route). They really can't expect anyone else to be looking out for them. If the city/state wants to encourage that development, they could make property tax guarantees so that once the artists gentrify a neighbourhood, they aren't priced out by property taxes.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

They did this...the Monohassett Mill is owned by three artist guys who had been at Fort Thunder, bought Monohassett Mills, did alot of work on their own, and have now created a highly successful, though lower profile, affordable REAL live-work space. its pretty cool, and something I would love to do.

But you are right. The demise of Fort Thunder never shoulda happened. there were sooo many people involved there, and the real estate then was worthless, they coulda bought it for literally like a $100 contribution and at least had control of their own destiny. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but I think lessons should certainly be learned there. There was just a great article in the Boston Globe a couple weeks back about artists who did their own development with city assistance...very cool.

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This is the classic Soho problerm that every city is faced with... Fort Thunder happened, though, because no one knew they were living there. Feldco bought the space thinking the buildings were empty. And the artists there could not have offered the money that Feldco offered to acquire the space.

But, Fort Thunder forced some other interesting projects, like Monohassett, the Hive Archive, and arguably, the development at 60 Valley Street. Monohassett, though successful, was not the same project that Clay Rock, Erik Bright, and the others thought. They thought they would be able to offer the space for cheaper, but they found out that it IS very expensive to rehab these spaces. That is maybe why we see such high prices on these even after developers promise them as affordable artist space.

People buzz around the idea of art space becuase of the return on investment. Artists bring culture and in turn shops, retail, sales tax revenue, and other people willign to live near the funky. It works so well, in fact, that the mere promise of affordable rent downtown and art space priced them out before the units even sold.

But it is changing, artists are getting smarter and buying space. Developers like Puente at 60 Valley are creating "Nest" spaces... 3000 sq feet that can be subdivided by 4 or 5 artists and shared, Fort Thunder style. I think there will plenty of alternatives in the city for artists and non-artists very soon.

And as far as more affordable spaces, you are seeing cities that have a lower premium on spaces like Pawtucket and Warwick stepping up to the plate and trying to attract artists into cheaper, more raw and less amenitified (?) spaces.

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