Mark Van Noppen co-founded The Armory Revival Co. in 1986, specializing in the planning, rehabilitation and marketing of historic buildings in southeastern New England.
The Armory Revival Co. recently sold a 135-unit apartment building that’s part of the Rising Sun Mills complex in Providence to the San Francisco-based FPA Multifamily LLC for $26.9 million. However, the company retained another side of the property that houses commercial tenants. The former mill was renovated in 2004 by The Armory Revival Co. together with Struever Brothers of Baltimore.
PBN: Why did Armory Revival Co. decide now to sell the 166 Valley St. side of the Rising Sun Mills after owning it since the property was redeveloped from a former mill into apartments in 2004?
VAN NOPPEN: It was not an easy or unanimous decision within the partnership because we believe that Rising Sun and the neighborhood are good long-term investments. We had just completed a lobby and common area refresh and renovated about half of the apartments. That combined with historically low interest rates and a housing shortage had driven the value of Rising Sun in such a way that if we ever were going to sell, this was a good time.
PBN: What’s happening now in the commercial spaces at Rising Sun Mills?
VAN NOPPEN: We have a wonderful mix of technology, design, engineering, health care, biotech, hospitality and nonprofit firms at 188 Valley St., the building with the beautiful glass atrium, the big rooftop sign and four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet.
CBRE has been enormously helpful in releasing the space formerly occupied by Dassault Systemes Simulia, who used the entire building. We are 94% occupied and are in negotiations with prospects that will get us to 100%.
PBN: Last year, Armory Revival’s Bourne Mill III project in Tiverton was awarded $2 million from the state’s Housing Resources Commission to produce 59 affordable and workforce housing units. What can you tell us about this project and what it will mean for the community?
VAN NOPPEN: This phase of development at Bourne Mill will produce what we hope will be a model for our state – a new apartment building for low- and moderate-income residents that uses no net energy – a net-zero building. It consists of 59 apartments, with 47 reserved for people making 60% or less of area median income and the balance for people making 110% or less.
This is a new building across the main drive from the historic granite mill that is being built with the support of federal low-income housing tax credits, Building Homes RI funding, and grants from National Grid and Rhode Island Housing for solar and energy efficiency technologies.
Barbara Sokoloff Associates of Providence helped us put this complicated capital stack in place. A large solar array and innovative construction technologies enable this building to use no more energy than it produces. We are excited to learn from and perhaps contribute to the improvement of future best building practices.
PBN: What other projects does Armory Revival have on the horizon? Can you tell us more about them?
VAN NOPPEN: We are working with Union Studios on a pocket neighborhood of approximately 28 homes across the Woonasquatucket River from Rising Sun Mills. This development will have a substantial number of affordable, for-sale homes overlooking the river. It is next to Donigian Park and is right around the corner from all the amenities that the rapidly evolving Valley, Olneyville and West Side neighborhoods have to offer.
Our partner, BJ Dupre, is finishing up a pair of challenging renovations to two large Victorian multifamily houses on Westminster Street, and I’m working with new partners Seth Zeren and RCG LLC on a variety of renovations to residential and commercial buildings on the West Side. The most noteworthy of those is probably the renovation and additions being made to the Park View, the former Miriam Hospital on Parade Street.
Our third partner, Barry Preston, is most active in Florida but is devoting much of his time to philanthropic work with several local nonprofits whose work is closely aligned with ours. He is leading our partnership with the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, the Providence Preservation Society, particularly its Preservation Trades Training program, and other community organizations.
PBN: What kind of return on investment is there to be found in the redevelopment of vacant mills, and are there many more vacant mills in Rhode Island that are yet to be developed?
VAN NOPPEN: Some people have lost their shirts and some people have made a lot of money renovating historic mills. It is not a game for those looking for easy, quick returns. The perceived value of these beautiful old buildings has changed a lot since 2002 when Bill Struever approached us about developing Rising Sun. It is no longer only preservationists, artists and shoestring startups that value them.
Many of the best buildings have been developed; what remain are often overpriced and are heavily challenged by physical condition, environmental issues or location, and renovation is more difficult than new construction. But some of those locations are improving – I’m thinking especially of Pawtucket and Central Falls – so their time is coming. I hope the state will restart the historic tax credit program and tip those projects into feasibility.
Renovating an old mill, compared to tearing it down, is climate friendly, ecologically prudent and solves many problems: it usually cleans up a contaminated site, improves the aesthetics and maintains the historic character of its neighborhood; brings obsolete buildings back onto the tax rolls; and has many other spillover benefits for the surrounding community.
Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.