Victory Place awaits new chapter

ON THE HORIZON: Matt Fair, left, and Peter Hayes, brokers with Hayes & Sherry, at the site of the former Victory Plating Co. “What the owners have asked us to do is expand the horizons for the site,” Fair said. / PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
ON THE HORIZON: Matt Fair, left, and Peter Hayes, brokers with Hayes & Sherry, at the site of the former Victory Plating Co. “What the owners have asked us to do is expand the horizons for the site,” Fair said. / PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD

A few blocks south of the chewed up swath of land where Interstate 195 used to run through Providence’s Jewelry District is another dusty, vacant lot in need of a productive use: the former Ward Baking Co. Property.
In a hotter real estate market, the Eddy Street property could have been a pioneer in transforming traditional industrial facilities into catalysts of the knowledge economy.
Two separate ownership groups have proposed building large medical-research facilities on the 5.3-acre property, but since the complex was vacated, the only activity there has been demolition of a handful of single-story, brick industrial buildings.
Now two years after buying the property out of receivership, owner JAG Investment Realty Company has changed the property’s name from Victory Square to Victory Place and put it back up for sale.
JAG, whose principals include auto dealer Richard Gudoian, is entertaining all kinds of offers for the property, from purchase, to a long-term development lease, to a joint-development partnership.
“What the owners have asked us to do is expand the horizons for the site,” said Matt Fair, broker with Hayes & Sherry Real Estate Services, which was hired in September to market the property. “There are a lot of opportunities outside the immediate market.”
While looking for potential users, JAG has been cleaning up the site, clearing title, testing the soil and completing grading to prepare for construction.
That effort to make the property “pad ready” has brought it to the last surviving part of the old industrial complex, the Ward Baking administrative building, which could be razed early next spring.
Built in an art-deco style between 1901 and 1908, the two-story, diamond-shaped building at the corner of Eddy and Globe Streets was, after a campaign to save it by neighborhood and preservation groups, going to be integrated into the medical complex in earlier development plans. But Mick Hogan, director of business development at Peregrine Group in East Providence, which was hired as a consultant to JAG last year, said that doesn’t make sense now.
“It is not an appealing link between existing neighborhoods,” Hogan said. “We think we have enough factual evidence to demonstrate that keeping the building up isn’t economically feasible. It’s been exposed to the elements and the roof is jeopardized. It is costly to support something that we don’t think adds a lot of value to the end result and no [potential users] expressed interest in keeping it.”
To tear down the “bread building,” JAG will need a permit from the city, which is often reluctant to allow the elimination of historic structures with no solid plans for construction.
And the neighborhood, as well as the city’s preservation community, are unlikely to welcome the loss of a building they fought to preserve.
“It is an important, historic building and being right on the sidewalk it is important to keep it there – it creates an edge,” said Arthur F. Salisbury, an architect and president of the Jewelry District Association. “They’ve got a huge parcel there and could certainly keep one building.”
Hogan argues that the building’s proximity to the street is a detriment to the streetscape because it prevents a wider sidewalk.
“It is a pinch point,” Hogan said. “It would make a better entrance to the Knowledge District [which includes the Jewelry District] if we widened the corridor. That would open a more pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare.”
The two-story administration building has been left open to the elements for some time and is now boarded up in back with a tarp, but no bracing, covering the roof. Hogan said Peregrine hopes to get city approvals to raze the building by the end of the year so demolition can begin next spring.
JAG purchased the Victory Place land, located on the other side of I-95 from Rhode Island Hospital, in the fall of 2011 for $10.6 million according to deeds filed with the city.
The purchase price included at least $600,000 of back taxes unpaid by the former owners, but also a 13-year tax-stabilization agreement that would result in no property taxes paid in the first three years.
Whether tearing down the “bread building” would violate conditions of the tax treaty is unclear.
After buying the land, JAG proposed a $90 million, 750,000-square-foot bio-sciences complex similar to what had been proposed previously.
Although the state has invested heavily in turning the remnants of the Jewelry District into a Knowledge District hub of medical and educational research, the market for lab and office space in the area is still soft.
Two blocks away on Point Street, Lifespan’s Coro Center is still unfilled and the nearest new office project is the Northwoods complex in Johnston.
Since Hayes & Sherry was hired, Fair said most of the interest he has received has been for medical office, laboratory and educational space.
But he said there have also been calls for potential residential uses: “everything from student to senior housing.”
Fair said he sees Victory Place eventually becoming a mixed-use site, with its gentle sloping grade an advantage in building underground parking decks.
“With 750,000 square feet, Providence isn’t a market that can absorb that size for office space,” Fair said. “What I anticipate is a mixed-use development with some academic and medical, some standard office, life science and lab space; some housing, retail and some hospitality with a hotel being interested.” •

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