2015-02-12 / Around Town

Paolino: I Respect Specialness of Newport

By Tom Walsh

Joseph R. Paolino Jr., one-time Providence mayor and Democratic candidate for governor and now a major force in commercial real estate, thought for a moment. He’d been asked whether there was anything he’d like Newporters to know about him that they might not already know.

“I’d like them to know that I respect the specialness of Newport,” he finally replied. “And I like the people of Newport. I have a home there, and wonderful business partners. Even the people I disagreed with, I respect and like them.”

Paolino, who turns 60 on April 26, was rebuffed by Newport voters in November when he attempted to win their approval to add table games at Newport Grand as a condition for his acquiring the facility from current owner and CEO Diane S. Hurley.

If voters approved table games, Paolino and two business partners were prepared to invest $40 million to upgrade the facility. Not long after Election Day, Paolino disclosed that he would still be interested in acquiring Newport Grand and turning the property into an entertainment center—albeit with an investment of something less than $40 million.

Not long ago, Paolino confirmed that he had again reached an agreement to buy Newport Grand from Hurley. Paolino has repeatedly declined to speak publicly in any detail about how much he would pay for the slots parlor, what he plans to do at the site to convert it to an entertainment center, or Hurley’s Superior Court filing that seeks to establish a clear title to a portion of the property.

In an interview with Newport This Week, Paolino maintained his silence about the deal. “I just can’t comment on that,” he said. “I have signed a confidentiality agreement.”

In the failed attempt to win Newport voter approval last November to establish table games as well as slot machines at the gambling parlor, Paolino had two partners: businessmen Peter de Savary and Paul G. Roiff. De Savary, a British businessman, developed Carnegie Abbey in Portsmouth. Roiff owns well-regarded restaurants and hotels in Boston. Paolino has declined to say whether he has partners in the current attempt to acquire Newport Grand.

Paolino maintains that getting a clear title to the entire property is necessary for the deal to go forward. Hurley has sought a Superior Court ruling to clear up that question, which involves a 1975 deed stipulation that the city could buy back the property on Admiral Kalbfus Road if it was not used continuously as a jai alai fronton (its original use) or a civic center.

While Paolino’s profile in Newport, where he owns a condominium as well as a house on Ocean Drive, derives mostly these days from his Newport Grand initiatives, his statewide profile also includes a high-level political resume.

In 1978 at the age of 23, he gained a Providence City Council seat and won re-election in 1982. He had become City Council chairman when, in April of 1984, then-mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci was removed from office after pleading no contest to felony charges. That vaulted the 29-yearold council chairman into the role of acting mayor of Providence. Paolino then won the special election to replace Cianci in 1986, and served until 1991.

In between, Paolino sought the Democratic Party nomination for governor but lost to Bruce Sundlun in the 1990 Democratic primary. He headed the Rhode Island Department of Economic Development from 1991 to 1994 and was ambassador to Malta under President Clinton from 1994 to 1996.

He and his wife Lianne are the parents of three daughters and a son .

Would he ever get back into politics?

“I don’t think so,” he said. “But you never know about the future.”

With politics behind him, Paolino settled into a career with his father, the late Joseph R. Paolino Sr., in the family enterprise, Providence based Paolino Properties, a real estate investment, development and management company that was founded in 1900. The firm oversees more than one million square feet of commercial office property and a million square feet of retail space in Providence and several other communities. In addition, the company also oversees 52 waterfront time-shares, hotels, industrial parks, residential subdivisions and the Vanderbilt Residences at Brown & Howard Wharf and Marina in Newport.

Paolino said, “I love to work. I love my job.”

And, he said, he hopes to always call both Newport and Providence his home.

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