Bristol Industrial Park is getting new owner; cleanup, repairs planned

BACK TO BASICS: Diana Campbell, executive director of the Mosaico Business & Community Development Corp., wants Bristol Industrial Park to become a business incubator. /
BACK TO BASICS: Diana Campbell, executive director of the Mosaico Business & Community Development Corp., wants Bristol Industrial Park to become a business incubator. /

Frances “Bud” Luther remembers the day the landlord replaced the roof over his metal-fabrication shop at the Bristol Industrial Park.
The lapse between removing the old roof and installing the new one allowed rain to spill into his office and destroy equipment. Then there were the two separate occasions that the landlord failed to pay the electric bill, leaving Luther’s Welding and Fabrication shop in the dark. And forget trying to call in a repair.
So when the Mosaico Business & Community Development Corp. announced last month that it purchased most of the former Kaiser Aluminum Corp. complex for $1.55 million, Luther greeted the news with guarded optimism.
“It gives me hope,” he said. “It can’t be much worse than it was.”
The industrial park, a rambling complex of mill buildings along Wood Avenue, has largely wallowed since Kaiser left in 1977. Roger Williams University (previously Roger Williams College) owned the complex for a while before a developer, Lyle Fain, purchased the site with visions to renovate it into commercial condominiums.
But Fain struggled to put the complex that dates to 1864 on firm footing, entering receivership in 2002 and then again in 2009. The park sat on the market for months as the receiver looked for a buyer.
Eventually it appeared a court would order the park sold piecemeal, destroying dreams of creating a thriving business hub to replace what was once the epicenter of employment in the Bristol. But town officials stepped in, asking Mosaico Community Development Corp. to purchase the park.
During the 1990s, the organization purchased part of the property and, with another community-development corporation, converted former mill buildings to housing for the elderly. After discussions with the town, and backed with financing from seller Bristol Funding Corp., Mosaico formed Mosaico Business & Community Development Corp. to purchase the eight buildings in the complex that were planned but never developed as commercial condos. Two commercial condominium properties that were developed in the park are not owned by Mosaico. Today, about 60 percent of the space now owned by Mosaico is vacant. There are approximately 75 employees at the roughly 25 companies in the buildings that include an automotive shop, a sign maker and a landscaper.
“If we can get it back to its heyday it would be an incredible source of employment,” said Diana Campbell, executive director of both Mosaico organizations.
Mosaico is working to clean up debris strewn around the site from decades of businesses having free rein of the complex. There are rusting trucks and pieces of heavy construction equipment. There were, until recently, piles of dirt. And local volunteer college students recently tore down weeds reaching frightening heights.
Mosaico is also discovering the results of years of a hands-off management. Campbell recently discovered one tenant stays rent-free in return for plowing the parking lot. A landscaping business keeps bunnies behind its offices.
The buildings themselves have also suffered from years of neglect. Over many years, Mosaico plans to spend $7 million to $10 million repairing the mostly brick structures and sprucing up the landscaping and pothole-ridden parking lots. Most urgently, the organization wants to replace leaky windows and roofs and improve the tenant mix.
Mosaico envisions the 280,000-square-foot complex becoming an incubator space for young manufacturing companies looking to grow.
During the Kaiser days, Campbell’s two uncles and her grandfather worked at the plant. Campbell, who lived two streets over at the time, still remembers the whistle blowing to start the workday, for lunch and to end the day. And she remembers the vibrancy around the plant that spilled over to the surrounding businesses and downtown area.
“It feels good to see my neighborhood coming back,” she said. •

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