Eminent domain could help save Arnold Building

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

As real estate projects, the HP Pavilion arena in San Jose, Calif., and the George C. Arnold Building on Washington Street in Providence are worlds apart. More

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DEVELOPMENT

Eminent domain could help save Arnold Building

PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
NARROW SCOPE: Damaged by a fire in 2009, the George C. Arnold Building on Washington Street in Providence could find new life with the city’s help.

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 6/10/13

As real estate projects, the HP Pavilion arena in San Jose, Calif., and the George C. Arnold Building on Washington Street in Providence are worlds apart.

The arena, home to the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks, sits on 17 acres and regularly hosts 17,000 spectators.

The three-story Arnold Building has been vacant since a fire in 2009 and at 12.5 feet deep, is the narrowest building in downtown Providence.

But new Providence Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Donald G. Gralnek believes his experience working with San Jose to build its arena can help Providence save the Arnold Building, one of Rhode Island’s most unique historic-preservation projects.

As senior vice president and general counsel for the Sharks, Gralnek helped San Jose clear numerous hurdles on the arena project that included the city acquiring the site through eminent domain.

That’s the same legal mechanism Providence Mayor Angel Taveras might use to redevelop the Arnold Building, a key part of the downtown streetscape that, due to its unique footprint, may not be viable as a purely private project.

“It desperately needs to be renovated to make it inhabitable and usable - to put it back on the property-tax rolls and make it an economic generator,” said Gralnek, hired to lead the redevelopment agency in April. “Whether [PRA] undertakes it or whether the private sector looks to do that is the question. It is highly likely that we would look to the private sector to rehabilitate it and make it functional. The effort under way now could have the agency acquire the property then contemplate and analyze how the redevelopment would occur.”

For the agency, acquiring the Arnold Building will require approval of the City Council and then negotiations with the owner, who is listed as ZW Properties LLC in city tax records.

Depending on what those negotiations produce, the agency has the option to buy the building in a conventional sale or seize it through eminent domain and then pay the owner a court-determined fair-market value. (There are also “friendly” eminent-domain takings where the property owner agrees to have the city take the property for an agreed-upon price.)

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