Five Questions With: Joseph R. Paolino Jr.

Joseph R. Paolino Jr. is CEO and managing partner of Paolino Properties LP. Founded in 1900, the fourth-generation company’s portfolio includes properties such as the Barrington Shopping Center, the Studley Building at 86 Weybosset St. in Providence, and the 20-story office building at 100 Westminster St. in the city’s downtown.

Paolino was formerly U.S. ambassador to Malta under President Bill Clinton from 1994 through 1996, director of the R.I. Department of Economic Development from 1991 through 1994, and mayor of Providence from 1984 through 1991.

PBN: It seems like Paolino Properties is often in the news involving property acquisitions and sales. How many commercial properties does Paolino Properties now have and how many residential properties does Paolino Properties currently have in its portfolio? And what can you say about the level of activity your company has seen in the past couple of years?

PAOLINO: Our company has a diverse portfolio that spans about 75 commercial properties, eight residential properties, three hotels, shopping centers, parking lots, and a marina. The pandemic threw a curveball at the commercial real estate industry, prompting us to intensify our efforts in attracting new tenants to Providence.

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Our flagship building, 100 Westminster St., underwent an impressive transformation from a standard office building into a thriving, campus-style environment. Featuring the award-winning Bellini Providence by Ignazio Cipriani and the innovative Hope & Main Downtown Makers Marketplace, which highlights makers from the successful food incubator, our space offers diverse culinary experiences. Additionally, Bellini Rooftop private club is ideal for intimate networking meetings and private events.

The recent accolade received by The Beatrice Hotel from Condé Nast further enhances the vibrant atmosphere, turning this address into a bustling hub for people to work, play, eat and stay. Completing the tenant experience, we have a state-of-the-art fitness center equipped with Peloton bikes, catering to the wellness needs of our community.

Just across the street, the Studley Building opened this year, offering turnkey apartments designed for modern downtown living, complete with workspaces for those with remote or hybrid work setups. Another notable achievement is bringing Tesla to Mashapaug Commons, which will serve as a significant regional service hub within Providence, particularly within the Reservoir Avenue Triangle. Additionally, our recent acquisition of the Holden Street property underscores our dedication to providing exceptional accommodations for our tenants, evident in the renovations planned for the Department of Human Services.

Despite pandemic challenges, we’ve been actively working to revitalize Providence’s real estate scene. These recent developments reflect our ongoing commitment to creating cohesive environments that integrate living, working, dining and social activities in the city.

PBN: What types of consumer trends may be driving tenancy in some of your commercial plazas and storefront properties? What are some of your latest tenants in your commercial plazas and storefront properties?

PAOLINO: In response to the changing preferences and trends in commercial plazas, businesses are prioritizing amenities to meet evolving demands. An example is Starbucks’ relocation within the Barrington Shopping Center, where they aimed for a more accessible location and introduced a drive-thru option. This adaptation showcases how businesses are aligning with consumer desires, emphasizing convenience and accessibility.

Amidst these evolving market trends, Paolino Properties has observed a boom in residential real estate demand. As a response, we’ve welcomed Compass to the Barrington Shopping Center, capitalizing on this surge. Our ability to adapt to changing demands, especially regarding convenience and accessibility, along with addressing logistical factors such as parking and traffic flow, ensures that our properties remain enticing and appealing to prospective tenants, contributing to the continual success and development of our portfolio.

Downtown storefronts face more severe challenges. The changing shopping trends, driven by online giants such as Amazon, have affected retail establishments in downtown. A lack of parking adds to the challenge. Government officials will need to collaborate with developers to devise innovative new ways to utilize this space effectively.

PBN: The Beatrice Hotel opened in downtown Providence in October 2021. What are your data or observations about the demand for luxury hotel rooms in Providence based on the business you’ve done at the Beatrice since it opened over two years ago?

PAOLINO: Opening The Beatrice Hotel in 2021 was a deeply special project for me, as it was named after my mother. It was supposed to open in 2020, but the pandemic profoundly impacted its open date, along with its impact on the entire industry. However, since its grand opening, we’ve observed a substantial resurgence in both corporate and leisure travel, indicating a robust return to pre-pandemic levels of activity in Providence.

Providence has always been a fantastic tourist destination, drawing visitors with its vibrant arts and culinary scenes. It is also an attractive hub for luxury and corporate travelers due to the presence of top companies such as CVS [Health Corp.], Hasbro [Inc.], Providence Equity, prestigious law firms such as Hinkley Allen, Adler Pollock & Sheehan [PC], and nearby universities, including Brown, RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], Providence College and Johnson & Wales.

The Beatrice Hotel’s success serves as a testament to Providence’s allure and the sustained demand for luxury accommodations in the city. I’m proud that it recently received national recognition from both Condé Nast and Food & Wine. This hotel is a source of pride for me, and it contributes to the economic vitality and appeal of Providence as a top-tier destination for travelers.

PBN: We’ve had nearly a year under Mayor Brett P. Smiley. Under this mayoral administration, what’s your outlook about the future of the downtown Providence area, including the development of the “Superman” building?

PAOLINO: Mayor Smiley has shown exceptional leadership. He is the right person at the right time for our city and is ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. His dedication to enhancing public safety, notably in reining in ATVs [all-terrain vehicles], deserves commendation.

As we look to the future, there’s a pressing need to address broader societal issues such as homelessness, mental health and addiction, which significantly impact community safety and well-being. Relocating buses downtown will further bolster safety measures, particularly around Kennedy Plaza, a crucial area for the city.

The “Superman” building stands as a symbol of downtown Providence’s development, and its revitalization is crucial for attracting residents to live in the heart of the city. Challenges such as inflation and interest rates may pose additional hurdles, so fostering a downtown environment that encourages both residency and employment is essential for long-term success. Governor [Daniel J.] McKee and Mayor Smiley’s leadership will undoubtedly be essential to navigating these challenges and fostering a vibrant downtown community.

PBN: What are the latest trends that you’re seeing related to the conversion of commercial properties into residential properties in the Providence area?

PAOLINO: Paolino Properties has been at the forefront of transformative projects, notably converting historic downtown buildings such as Case Mead on Dorrance Street and The Studley Building on Weybosset Street into modern residential spaces. These conversions are great examples of our commitment to preserving the city’s architectural heritage while meeting the growing demand for housing. We are actively exploring additional opportunities to replicate this success in other buildings under our ownership and management.

President [Joe] Biden’s recent initiatives as a part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill encourage unused commercial office buildings near transit hubs to be converted into housing. This aligns remarkably well with the proactive efforts that we have already undertaken. The availability of federal funding, technical support and incentives is important, particularly in navigating challenges such as high interest rates and inflated material costs. An economic game-changer for Providence would be the addition of high-speed rail via Amtrak, connecting Providence, New York and Boston. This would be key to helping people live and work in our urban areas.

Marc Larocque is a PBN contributing writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockObama. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Kudos to Mr. Paolino in his many projects in downtown Providence. Priority must be placed on stimulating transformative projects in downtown which may require the collaboration of Paolino with other development firms to make it a reality. Here is one idea of this type which starts with the Shephard building. When the Dept. of Education and URI move out of that building, it should be converted to residences with a shopping arcade on the first floor. Partnering would come into play by erecting a new building, possibly on the site of the old police HQS, to accommodate URI and the Education Dept. A fully leased building prior to construction would pave the way for financing. Also, combine the conversion of Shephard building with the construction of a high rise residential tower on Paolino’s site on Mathewson street behind the Wilkerson building which ideally could be incorporated into the new building. This building could be designed with a turn around driveway to prevent any congestion on Mathewson. The lower floors should be devoted to parking and possibly a bridge could be built linking building to Shepherd building offering up parking to their residents. In both the new tower and Shepherd, the focus should be condos. It’s nice to have residences for students and transients, but to give downtown some rooted stability, the goal should be more condos in downtown. In this respect I cite San Diego which successfully reshaped their downtown by using incentives to aid the conversion of many apartment buildings into condos residences. This is the type of mega project that may require joint collaboration of developers.