2014-06-26 / Front Page

Waterfront Property Potential

By Tom Shevlin

When the Narragansett Indian Tribe renewed its push last month to acquire a swath of former Navy property along the west side of Aquidneck Island, city leaders in Newport and Middletown were understandably taken aback.

For years, the property has been the subject of an immense amount of planning and focus on the part of municipal officials, residents, and regional planners. Each community has its own designs for the property, which taken together represent one of the most significant regional redevelopment opportunities in decades.

At stake in Newport is a 30-acre site just north of the Pell Bridge which was home to the former Navy hospital, chapel, and a slew of ancillary support buildings.

Since learning of the Navy’s plan to dispose of the property nearly a decade ago, city planners have touted the potential held in what has been described as the last remaining publicly-owned and developable waterfront parcel on Newport harbor. Ideas for the property have ranged from a park to an office complex, hotel, and marina.

And while the opportunity to make use of acreage that has for most of its modern life been unusable is exciting, it’s far from the only piece of waterfront property currently being eyed for development.

Up and down lower Thames Street, a series of recent developments and open parcels could also have a significant impact on the city’s waterfront, which for centuries was defined by working piers filled with metalsmiths, shipbuilders, warehouses and fishing operations. It was, for all of its grittiness, what many call a working waterfront.

Slowly, however, that legacy has eroded as development opportunities have presented themselves to waterfront property owners.

Parascandola Wharf, which has been on the market for over two years, is one such example. Presently used as a hub for commercial fishing vessels by day and a parking lot at night, the roughly 74,000 sq. ft. property is abutted by the Newport Yachting Center on one side and the 41 North complex on the other.

To date, no serious plans have emerged to redevelop the property. However, if it is developed, it could have the potential to reshape the area with the introduction of yet another hotel or mixed-use facility.

A few wharves down, a glimpse of what new developments along the water could look like may be seen at Brown and Howard Wharf. There, luxury condominiums and a small suite of offices have popped up, filling the area with luxury cars and what can only be described as a much different clientele than what was previously seen in the days of the city’s working waterfront.

A mixed-use complex that has recently been complete promises to add to the mix, this one offering a mix of luxury condos, offices and even a new restaurant space.

Meanwhile, another opportunity has surfaced in recent days. Twenty six Lee’s Wharf, which consists of 17 deep water boat slips and an adjoining 33,000-sq. ft. waterfront lot, hit the market just last week.

With an asking price of $5.5 million, the property is being advertised as a potential site for a future luxury hotel or condominium complex.

This corridor of potential development opportunities, however, doesn’t end at Lee’s Wharf. A low-slung commercial warehouse building on Waites Wharf is also on the market with an asking price of $1.795 million. It too is being advertised as a mixed-use site.

Further down the street an even larger possibility looms.

There, at the Wellington Resort, timeshare unit owners were asked earlier this year to consider an offer put forth by developers Peter de Savary and Joseph R. Paolino Jr. to convert the property into a luxury hotel and resort.

De Savary and Paolino, who are also leading the effort to purchase Newport Grand and convert the former jai alai facility into a fullfledged casino, gave the timeshare owners 45 days to respond to the proposal.

Although no deal has been struck to purchase the property outright, the interest in the former gas company site belies what has been a steady uptick in real estate speculation over the last several years.

It also confirms what Newporters have known for quite some time: that we may need to change the definition of our “working waterfront.”

Return to top