Is There More to this Providence Fruit Building Thing?
As an admitted antiquarian, I’ve never met an old building I didn’t think should be preserved and re-used. But that’s just me and I recognize that–beauty being in the eye of beholder–not everyone thinks that the Providence Fruit and Produce Company Warehouse (more here) was worth preserving, restoring or reconfiguring. OK, fine. But what troubled me about the events leading up to the demolition of the building was the manifest failure of the government–state and City of Providence–to get their acts together. In particular, how the state’s incompetence ended up in lost revenue:
The state bought the building from Amtrak for $14.1 million and evicted the remaining businesses. It held the property for six years while it debated what to do with it — either knock it down or sell it — and the property deteriorated, becoming a haven for the homeless and a draw for graffiti artists.
After lobbying by local preservationists, the state decided to put the building up for sale in the spring of 2004, with the condition that the original structure be incorporated into any new design.
The state’s request for proposals included a draft preservation easement that prevents the developer from knocking the building down for any reason — even in an emergency situation, only localized repairs are allowed without permission from state historic preservation officials.
But that preservation easement was never included in either the purchase agreement or the final property transfer last February….
Carpionato responded to the request with a $4.5-million bid, and on July 8, 2004, proposed a Quincy Market-style development featuring dozens of small shops. The state agreed in principle to the design, and consented to sell the building to Carpionato for $10 million less than the $14.1-million price it had paid to Amtrak seven years before. The reason, state officials said, was that half of the property had been sliced off to allow for the offramp construction. The other reason was that forcing the buyer to re-use the old building clearly reduced the value of the property….
So the state wanted to preserve the building, but did nothing to ensure compliance. Well, almost nothing:
A section of the deal requires the developer to set aside $250,000 to be paid if Carpionato breaches the agreement, Moses wrote. But that is the extent of Carpionato’s liability, he argued, and beyond that, the state does not have legal recourse; nothing prevents Carpionato from destroying the building if the situation changes for regulatory reasons — like issuance of a demolition permit.
I’m unsure if the $250,000 will be paid–but it’s a small price to pay, anyway.
I’m not particularly impressed with the way that Carpianato has gone about this and my impression is that this was their gameplan (h/t) all along. But the whole way this went down has me wondering if this isn’t a case of the State being incompetent….maybe someone on the State side of things had a reason to leave out the previously agreed upon guarantees and conditions in the final purchase agreement. I don’t know. But the mystery of why they were left out remains.
So, to summarize, I’m not debating the aesthetics of whether to demolish or save. I am questioning the flow of events that led to the outcome. The property was sold under a certain set of pretenses that supposedly guaranteed preservation of the original structure in some form. As a result of these assumptions, the property was sold for cheaper than market value because preservation is more expensive than ripping it down. In other words, the property could have probably fetched more money if these supposed qualifications weren’t in place to begin with. That would have meant more money to the State (ie; taxpayers), including no historic tax credit, incidentally. The end result is that the developer got the best of both world; a cheaper, “preservation price” for the property and then the eventual go-ahead to demolish and develop at a more “economical” price.
So, I wonder if a game was being played from the start to keep the price down based on a pretense of preservation that would ultimately prove unenforceable because the legal language guaranteeing preservation was mysteriously left out of the final deal.