PAWTUCKET — Concern about the future of the Pawtucket Armory building now that it is in receivership has prompted city officials to call for an emergency meeting with the Pawtucket Armory Association, the receiver, and other pertinent parties.
Councilor Albert Vitali had asked the city's legal department to look into whether or not the city could take back the historic property through some type of “reverter clause” now that it is in receivership.
The castle-like building, once a National Guard Armory, was sold in 2002 to the Pawtucket Armory Company LLC for $1. It was later conveyed to an entity called the Pawtucket Armory Association, which has been managing the property. Built in 1894 to 1895, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The massive structure had been renovated primarily to house two main leased tenants, the Gamm Theatre and the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
At the time, city leaders had envisioned the building, which sits majestically at the top of Exchange Street just off I-95, as being a key part of the downtown revitalization and arts scene.
However, after four years, the School Committee voted last year to move the JMW Arts School in to Jenks Junior High School.
According to officials with the Armory Association, this loss of revenue was the main reason for the decision to place the property into receivership.
At Wednesday night's City Council meeting, City Solicitor Frank Milos told the council that while there is language in the conveyance documents that give the city the right of reversion, it is only in limited circumstances. He further pointed out that the way the documents are written (a property disposition agreement and a quitclaim deed), the language is vague as to what the city's rights would be to regain ownership.
Milos said the sales agreement appears to center around planned improvements that were to be made to the building by the buyer and if there had been “substantial completion” of these improvements. He told the council that according to his preliminary assessment of the agreement, the right of reversion could only be exercised if the buyer did not commence improvements by Jan. 1, 2004; the improvements were not substantially completed by Dec. 31, 2006; or, at any time after Jan. 1, 2003 and before substantial completion of renovations, the city determined that the buyer's proposed use of the property was not financially viable or that the buyer's goals could not be met.
However, Milos also told the council that the matter of the improvements would have to be looked into in much greater detail to determine of the city has any reversion rights. He pointed to the difficulty that exists in trying to determine the level of completion of the improvements as they were outlined in earlier documents and building plans. “I'm not convinced we have a right of reversion,” he stated, but added that he would research the matter further.
Vitali complained that he had tried to get a hold of the building plans for the Armory that had shown these improvements, but was having no luck. He told the council that the plans “seem to have disappeared” with the change of administration.
Additionally, Milos and Acting Planning Director Barney Heath told the council that the city had given the Armory Association an unsecured loan of $50,000 loan and had provided another approximately $600,000 in federal Community development Block Grant funds over the years to help with building improvements and repairs for both historical preservation purposes and to accommodate the school.
“We are into that building for a substantial amount of money,” said Vitali. “It is imperative that we bring in all of the interested parties and find out what the next step is. If the receiver finds a new owner for that property, we're out.”
City Councilor Thomas Hodge agreed with the idea for the meeting, but said that perhaps city officials should try to do more to assist the Pawtucket Armory Association with its financial difficulties. “Let's not lose sight of our purpose. We were looking to have a centerpiece for our arts revival,” he stated.
The council instructed City Clerk Richard Goldstein to invite all of the parties involved in the Pawtucket Armory matter to attend a meeting in two weeks prior to the next council meeting.
In other matters, the City Council on Wednesday voted to approve a request for a license transfer for a Class B—used auto parts license for Marcus J. Vitali, doing business as Car Pros Tire Sales and Auto, from Tire Pros of RI, Inc. at 21 Division St.
Councilor John J. Barry III, who represents District 4, questioned Vitali and his attorney about the nature of the business and what would be visible outside. He noted that the property is a prime piece of real estate located in the city's Riverfront District, and stated that if city officials “had their druthers, we'd have liked to have seen that zoning changed.”
Vitali's attorney said that Vitali, who worked previously in auto repair and sales, would be focusing on car repair and did not plan on selling cars from the lot. He said Vitali plans to lease the building until July and then has an option to purchase it. He added that the city also needs to have more “viable businesses” to add to its tax base.
Lewis Soares, a member of the Riverfront Commission, said an auto repair business is not something the commission would have ideally wanted to see in that location, but that Vitali's business plan had met all of the zoning criteria. As such, he said the commission would like to see the “integrity” of the building maintained in accordance with plans for future riverfront development.
Barry agreed and recommended several stipulations on the license, including that there be no unregistered cars on the lot, no cars or auto parts stored on the site, and no banners, balloons or other type of promotional signage. The council voted to approve the license transfer 7 to 0. Councilor Albert Vitali recused himself from the voting as Marcus J. Vitali is his nephew.
Prior to the council meeting, the Board of License Commissions voted to fine Jose A. DeBrito, the owner of Nova Churrasqueira Restaurant at 434 Broadway, $300 for having two violations of stipulations on his Class BV liquor license. The board additionally placed a stipulation on the license that any music, whether from a DJ or a live band, be shut off at 12 midnight rather than the previous ending time of 12:30 a.m.
DeBrito had been asked to appear for a formal hearing after neighbors had complained about loud noise and unruly patrons at the establishment. Also, on two occasions in March, Pawtucket Police had cited the business for being in violation of a liquor license stipulation requiring a detail patrol officer present anytime there was music on the premises.
Councilor Mark Wildenhain reminded DeBrito that the liquor license had been issued for a restaurant and bar, and said he didn't think a nightclub operation was appropriate for that neighborhood. DeBrito responded that he would abide by the license stipulations and keep the music level down in the future.
Also, the board voted to table its decision to revoke a license that had previously been granted to Unique Minority Corp., for a business at 605 Broadway. The license holder, Maria Gonzalez, who did not appear at the scheduled hearing, was given one more chance to present her case to the board in two weeks. If she does not appear at the next hearing, the license will automatically be rescinded to the city.