2018-04-26 / Front Page

Neighborhood Hears Cranston-Calvert Plans

By James Merolla

The future of the Cranston Calvert School was just one of the topics in a wide open 75-minute discussion on April 24 to the Off-Broadway Neighborhood Association that also concerned housing, parking and population issues.

City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. talked about the battle of the city budget, the possibility of paid parking meters along Broadway, the progress of buildings and the desperate need for young people to return to an aging Newport.

He also revealed that the Newport Project Development Co., the developer that has taken on the possibility of rebuilding the Cranston Calvert School, received the bid without national advertising.

Nicholson was asked by Newport This Week how the properties and projects are advertised on the national market.

He said that the company, which was bidding on the bridge ramp at the time, also had the chance to bid on Cranston-Calvert. He said that the school was part of 10 projects that were languishing and needed impetus.

City Councilor Lynn Ceglie, who attended the meeting with Councilor Jamie Bova, said the city didn’t know how to best develop the projects, including Cranston Calvert, and that it was looking for guidance.

“Why not put it out into the market and get the best project out there? Let’s see what the options are,” said developer Buddy Hill, who has built approximately 25 notable Newport buildings and other projects.

Nicholson said the company is “digging deeply” to assess how much it will cost to renovate the school building into 32 to 34 one- and two-bedroom apartments that would be set at the market rate of $1,400 to $1,800 per month.

“I thought the point was that people could afford it, not market rent,” said a Broadway resident.

Nicholson said at least $4 million would be needed to rehab the building under this plan. Hill put the figure at $8 million, and said condominiums were a much better option.

“I think that condominiums would get a more diversified group, higher tax revenues to the city, a lot of renters here, more control when you have [just] one developer here,” he said. “It’s going to be younger people, older people, but also a person who can afford it. [With] subsidized rent service you have no control.”

Nicholson said that he and the city solicitor have been, “Scrambling to get certain projects moving forward.

“You get to a comfortable point, and then things, just stop,” he said. “There are a lot of nuances, a lot of legal things, a lot of hurdles, negotiations, arguments, a project I might feel good about two months ago, like Cranston-Calvert… Things slow down and I move onto something else, and that cycle happens all over again.”

He said the school was clearly an eyesore and “something had to be done, sooner or later. An opportunity has presented itself with Newport Project Development Company [NPDC].”

The company, according to its website, specializes in public-private financing, resiliency planning, construction management, legal requirements and investment management. The five partners in NPDC include Gilbane Construction, Converge, Denton’s, Louis Berger and G2 Investment Group.

“[They have started to] drill down to look at utilities and gather numbers on design costs,” Nicholson said.

The city has not signed a purchase-and-sales agreement or had any in-depth discussion on the zoning on the property, which is restricted it to “very limited use.”

“There are two aspects of it: the need to conclude a fair deal for the city and fair deal for the developer,” Nicholson said.

He said that zoning amendments needed to be “tweaked” so the developer’s proposal can proceed. “I can represent to you that any change in the zoning ordinance will require the developer to keep parking on site,” he said.

The goal, Nicholson said, is to shatter the perception that Newport is an unaffordable city in which to live. “We want to break that barrier and try to provide this type of housing and make these connections and draw some younger people back to the city,” he said.

The population is 26,000 and gaining at the same time, he added. “From a planning standpoint, an umbrella standpoint, for the good of a city that I was born in, that I will die in, we need to reverse the trend,” he said.

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