PROVIDENCE – A prominent, 50,000-square-foot brick building overlooking Interstate 195, next to the pedestrian bridge that connects to riverside India Point Park, will be redeveloped as a 71-unit apartment building as part of a $7.75 million construction project that was presented to the Providence Zoning Board of Review on Wednesday.
Local real estate investor Dustin Dezube, who owns the property management company Providence Living, received approval from the Zoning Board for use and dimensional variances needed to move forward with the historic renovation of the former Tockwotton Home at 180 George M. Cohan Blvd. in an R-2 residential zone.
The Zoning Board on Wednesday voted 5-0 to approve the variances for the proposed apartment building, which is referred to as the “Residences At India Point” in project plans submitted by Dezube.
“I’m very excited about the project,” Dezube said. “This is an important adaptive reuse project that breathes life back into a building that is otherwise going to be underused. And it brings 71 units to the market across a wide range of budgets at a time when we’re facing a housing crisis.”
Dezube said construction could start as early as the fourth quarter of this year.
The Tockwotton Home, constructed in the 1850s originally as “The Home for Aged Women,” was a 42-bed nursing home and 30-bed assisted living residence until January 2013. That’s when the organization moved to its present location in a sprawling, five-story building next to the Seekonk River in East Providence known as Tockwotton on the Waterfront.
Later in 2013, the former Tockwotton Home in the Fox Point neighborhood became a boarding school for Chinese students known as the Roosevelt International Academy, until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted travel from overseas.
The 180 George M. Cohan Blvd. property is owned by a limited liability company called 75 East St LLC that’s registered to the Los Angeles-based Hawkins Way Capital, and it is working together with 180 GMC LLC in its request for the variances, according to an application submitted to the Zoning Board.
180 GMC LLC belongs to Dezube, who plans to buy the property from Hawkins Way Capital now that the project has received the variances needed to move forward.
The plan to redevelop the property calls for 26 parking spaces.
The R-2 zoning allows for a maximum of two apartment units in the area by right, and city regulations would normally require one parking space for every dwelling unit. For both of these reasons, the variances are required.
The Zoning Board approved the variances with a stipulation that the developer must apply for on-street parking for building residents and seek a master lease agreement from the city for a minimum of five parking spaces.
Several members of the Zoning Board applauded the project.
“I believe it’s a project that aligns with the city’s strategic plans and is going to be a great addition to the city,” said Zoning Board member Bianca Rodriguez.
Much of the meeting on Wednesday focused on the need for the project to include no less than 71 units to make it financially viable for Dezube to move forward with it, as opposed to a less-dense housing development that the city board could have considered, such as an apartment building with 50 units.
“The project simply is not viable below 71 units,” Dezube said.
Dezube said even with the variances allowing for 71 units, he expects to see a “low submarket return” as a result of an “unprecedented” rise in interest rates for financing that was far beyond what he modeled when he first entered into a deal last year to redevelop the property, rising from 3.4% to 4.8%.
But Dezube said he sought the variances because he is “passionate about historic projects, adaptive reuse, and Providence in general,” and also because he already invested more than $250,000 into the project, in terms of architectural planning and a “very large nonrefundable deposit” as part of an agreement with the current owner to redevelop the building.
Department of Planning and Development staff issued a recommendation to the Zoning Board that the requests for variances be approved.
“Denial of the variance could result in a lack of viable options for the building given the zone’s use restrictions,” according to the department’s recommendation. “A negative effect on neighborhood character is not expected, as the use would be similar to the site’s prior uses, which operated with a similar amount of parking without negatively affecting neighborhood character. The site is in proximity to public transport and bike infrastructure, which would reduce the need for parking.”
The project, which features one-bed, two-bed and studio apartments, would be supported by federal historic tax credits, according to the application for variances.
Units will likely be priced between $1,300 and $3,000 per month, Dezube said, adding that parking spots can be rented by residents for $50 to $100 per month. The likely demographics for the building will be young professionals in the range of 25 to 35 years old, Dezube said.
The historic property was originally designed by architect Charles Hartshorn.
“The building itself is a unique triumph of architecture that defines Fox Point’s skyline from Narragansett Bay up the Providence River,” according to the application for variances submitted by 180 GMC LLC. “The structure is one of the most identifiable properties for all persons making use of I-195 within the city of Providence. The structure is located at the gateway to India Point Park and is a landmark for access to the city’s waterfront, especially from the historic East Side.”
No changes are proposed to the existing building footprint, according to a project description in the application for variances.
“The proposed project at 180 George M. Cohan Boulevard intends to re-use and revitalize the existing historic structure in a manner that minimizes disturbance to its existing layout and structure to the greatest extent reasonably possible,” the project description states.
The 180 George M. Cohan Blvd. property was last valued by city assessors in 2021 at $3.2 million, according to public records.
“The proposal also includes minimal exterior improvements, retaining walls, patios, doors and windows are proposed at the basement level of the building, all of which are not visible from the street,” the project description states. “Additional minor improvements to the exterior are limited to the addition of light wells to serve existing and proposed basement windows, landscaping, and hardscaping, and in-kind repair and replacement of deteriorated architectural elements as needed.”
The project received a letter of support from the Providence Preservation Society addressed to Dezube. Renderings submitted for the project were created by Providence Architecture, which is an arm of Providence Living headed by architect Kevin Diamond.
More than a dozen neighborhood residents and a local business owner also submitted letters supporting the project, addressing their comments to Ward 1 Councilor John Goncalves, stating that the project fits in with the character of the neighborhood.
“We commend your team on a great project and approach to bring new life into a historic building in Fox Point,” wrote Rachel Robinson, director of preservation for the Providence Preservation Society. “We are pleased to see your light-touch proposal.”
(UPDATES throughout, including the Providence Zoning Board of Review’s approval of use and dimension variances needed for the Tockwotton Home redevelopment project to move forward.)
Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.