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Armory saved from receivership, gets facelift

April 6, 2012

Debra Whitehouse, building manager for the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center, shows off some of the recent painting and other renovation work that has been done to the Drill Hall.

PAWTUCKET — What a difference a few months makes. After being rescued out of receivership by a private developer, the historic Pawtucket Armory building is being given a second lease on life as an arts and entertainment venue as well as commercial loft/office space.
The castle-like, brick and stone building that sits majestically at the top of Exchange Street was purchased last fall by Brian Thibeault, the owner of Joseph Properties, a New Hampshire-based development firm. Thibeault paid a reported $561,000 for the 48,000-square foot property at auction.
The purchase by Thibeault generated much relief on the part of city officials, who had voiced concerns over the future of the landmark property, which the city had hoped to be a centerpiece of its downtown revitalization plans.
The turreted armory, designed by William Walker & Sons, was built between 1894 and 1895. It was first used by the Tower Light Infantry of Pawtucket, the Kearny Light Infantry of Central Falls, and the Pawtucket Horse Guards First Cavalry Battalion. After World War II, an annex was added on to the building to house military vehicles for the Rhode Island National Guard.
Thibeault renamed the building the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center and stated his intent to keep The Gamm Theatre as a tenant. He also announced plans to renovate the spacious Drill Hall and make it available for special events, as well as the two upper floors to lease office/loft space to artists, retailers and other types of business professionals.
Debra Whitehouse, building manager for the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center LLC, recently showed off the work that has been done so far, particularly in the Drill Hall. The walls, which had been a hodge-podge of exposed brick and sections of bright blue paint, have been painted a soothing white, along with the domed ceiling. “It will be an all-white shell,” Whitehouse said. “It will be a pretty place. We want to do weddings, bridal showers and other types of parties here,” she said.”
Over 3,000-square feet of maple hardwood flooring has been replaced and the entire floor will be sanded and stained. The windows, many of which had broken glass panes or rotted sills, have been replaced along with some rotted beams that were located in the sub-floor. Additionally, new lighting has been installed and plans are in the works to repair and secure a large wooden balcony so it can be used by guests or function as a bandstand.
Also on the first floor are two large rooms, both with brick fireplaces and large windows, that are in the process of being spruced up. Whitehouse says these are ideal for meetings and conferences, or smaller parties and functions for up to 200 people.
The second and third floors of the Armory building contain various sized rooms, a few of which are round-shaped because they are located within the turrets. Many of these spaces, too, are receiving fresh coats of paint, stain, and other modernization to make them suited to commercial use.
Whitehouse notes that the entire building is designated for tax-exempt use by artists, but said it would be good for other types of business professionals as well. She said the space is being offered for $12.50 per square foot per year, with all utilities included.
Whitehouse said the owner also wants to work closely with the city and respond to the needs of its residents. The Drill Hall is used as rehearsal space for the firefighters' drill team and other performance groups, and is available for activities like indoor soccer practices. Last month, it served as the location of the post-parade party for the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and on Tuesday, will be the setting for The Pawtucket Foundation's 9th annual awards dinner.
“We're really trying to make it a city building. We want to be open to the people of the city,” said Whitehouse. She added that a formal open house is being planned for the coming months once the renovations are completed.

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