2018-06-14 / Front Page

Casino Property’s Owner Talks Plans

‘Homework’ To Do
By Christopher Allen

The next chapter in the long and controversial history of 150 Admiral Kalbfus, the current home of Newport Grand Casino and former home of Newport Jai Alai, began on May 2 when the Johnston-based Carpionato Group, a large-scale real estate development company, purchased the property for $10.15 million from Twin River Management Group, owner of Twin River Casino.

The Newport Grand Casino company was not part of the transaction with Carpionato Group, which only includes the 23.5-acre property and building. Twin River Management Group, which has owned and operated Newport Grand since 2015, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, Inc.

Although the precise vision for the property is uncertain, Alfred Carpionato, CEO of Carpionato Group, which also owns the Anglesea Mansion across from the Breakers and controls more than six million square feet of real estate, said in a press release that, “as a resident of Newport with a history of property development on Aquidneck Island, I have often envisioned a more thriving, welcoming and visually appealing entry to the City by the Sea.” A majority of Carpionato’s assets are in Rhode Island.

Joe Pierik, Carpionato Group vice-president of retail leasing and acquisitions, said that any timeline for the project is contingent on the completion of the casino in Tiverton and the subsequent vacating of Newport Grand (both owned by Twin River Worldwide Holdings). With the approval by Tiverton residents per referendum for a casino near the Massachusetts border, Twin River is moving Newport Grand’s gambling operations there after the completion of construction slated for early fall.

Carpionato is in the process of researching and imagining the development possibilities.

“It’s going to be a mix of uses,” said Pierik, citing restaurants, retail, hotels and function and conference space as possibilities, although nothing is set in stone. “It’s not going to be a defined shopping center.”

Pierik, a 25-year Middletown resident, made a point to stress that the company’s investment in the property is long-term. “This is a generational opportunity... We are not looking to flip out of this thing in three to five years,” he said.

“We are hyper-focused and hyper familiar with Aquidneck Island... It will be important to get a lot of input from all of the key stakeholders in the area. I drive by the site twice a day, every day. It’s not like we are some out-of-town guys.”

In 2014, Newport voters rejected for the second time a proposed full-scale casino at the site. Newport Grand has been limited to slot machines during its tenure in Newport. Mayor Harry Winthrop, touting an infusion of revenue and economic benefits, supported a move to allow table games in what became a months-long campaign.

Winthrop said he is still disappointed that the casino measure failed to pass. “The voters were deceived by the anti-casino forces,” he said. “They believed that Newport Grand would not leave if we didn’t grant table games, when we knew all along they were going to leave [if the table measure was rejected].”

Winthrop said that not only did the city lose 225 jobs and $1 million in annual revenue with the casino’s coming move to Tiverton, but around 500 jobs and $4 million without the casino expansion.

The mayor said that preliminary plans for the North End neighborhood surrounding the property are to grid off the area to give it a more welcoming look. “We want to get away from that highway feel that separates the North End from the South End and make it more of a walkable area,” he said. “We’re going to have to build that area up.”

The property sits in a commercial industrial district, so other than residential housing, there are no restrictions. However, Winthrop said it’s important that any proposal fits with Newport’s development vision, “to make sure it’s compatible with what we have in mind for development and the balance of property in the North End,” he said.

The purchase coincides with state plans to realign the exit entering the city. It has allocated $40 million for the relocation of the Pell Bridge ramps.

Pierik added that the company will not compete with the city’s other attractions, but it will synthesize with them. With development nationwide trending away from the traditional shopping strip and toward mixed-use destinations, Pierik said, “Everything today is focused on placemaking.”

Placemaking refers to the trend, begun in the 1960s, of the planning, design and management of public spaces that seek to foster users’ health, happiness, and well being.

Pierik said that the company is developing a plan that aligns with current best practices for modern urban design. It also is watching the Department of Transportation’s conversations regarding the exit ramp realignment.

“We are definitely looking at what’s proposed and how it will impact us,” he said.

“We are being very thoughtful in taking our time in looking at how we are going to redevelop the property,” said Pierik. “We still have a tremendous amount of homework to do.”

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