Five Questions With: Thomas Deller

Thomas Deller is the director of planning and economic development for Central Falls. He recently joined Mayor Maria Rivera and Gov. Daniel J. McKee, among other city officials, to celebrate the revitalization of a property known as “The Landing,” as part of an effort that’s expected to bolster tourism, kayaking, fishing, boating and other economic activity along the Blackstone River.

The renovation project, the product of a private-public partnership, was first announced by the Tai-O Group in 2017, which previously pegged the cost at around $4 million. The 7,000-square-foot property, originally the home of the American Supply Co. but vacant for the past 14 years, is now home to a Peruvian dining destination, Shark Restaurant & Lounge, as well as another restaurant and the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.

PBN: For those who haven’t heard much about the project yet, what is the Landing?

DELLER: The Landing is a historic mill building located on the Blackstone River at 1420 Broad St., the northern border of Central Falls with Cumberland. Ownership of this property has bounced around over the past 20 years and at one point was proposed for demolition. The R.I. Department of Environmental Management funded a purchase of the property with the commitment that the city would redevelop it for commercial use and maintain public access to the Blackstone River.

- Advertisement -

Over the past 10 years, the city, working with the Friends of the Blackstone River and the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, together reimagined and redeveloped the site. It is now an amazing nexus of community and water programming and is the headquarters of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. The tourism council operates its water-based programs from the city’s docks, including a new free kayak program for our city youths in partnership with our Parks and Recreation Department. The site also has two restaurants, as well as large, 6-foot letters spelling out the city’s name that light up at night and are a great tourist attraction.

PBN: Why was it worth it for Central Falls and the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council to support the revitalized Landing?

DELLER: The Landing is a symbol of the city’s rebirth. We have come back from bankruptcy with a bang. It is a revitalized gateway, which offers programs to get people onto the water, and great restaurants, one of which is in a restored historic mill building with fantastic river views.

The success of the Landing shows that Central Falls can achieve great things. We’re excited to keep this momentum going as we continue to develop and revitalize other areas of the city to address our housing needs, resources for residents and support the economy.

PBN: What kind of impact do you expect the Landing to have on local tourism and economic development in this part of the community?

DELLER: The Landing is one of the first steps to change the image of Central Falls and to begin attracting people back to the city. By locating the tourism council in this building, their supporters and volunteers will come to the city and see the changes that are happening.

We’re thrilled to see more people visit the restaurants on the property and start spreading the word of the great things happening in Central Falls, including Central Falls Restaurant Week from Aug. 26 through Sept. 4, the car show and salsa nights. Economic rebirth and the attraction of tourists start slowly. With the Landing, we will build on this success, and we believe economic growth and tourism will follow.

PBN: How might this impact property values in this area and what will that mean for the community?

DELLER: Abandoned property pulls down the value of what surrounds it. With a revitalized building and the activity on the site, property values, at a minimum, will stabilize.

Central Falls is a built-out, dense community. So, the only way to grow property value is to improve the quality of the buildings in the city and, as a result, the quality of our neighborhoods.

PBN: What will be the next steps for Central Falls as it pursues further development and economic revitalization?

DELLER: Mayor Rivera has laid out an aggressive agenda to strengthen our businesses and grow jobs, to increase housing opportunities, to redevelop our parks, and to build new schools. We work every day making progress toward each of these.

In early August, we had a groundbreaking on new single-family housing to be built on vacant lots on Washington and Hood streets. We are collaborating with ONE Neighborhood Builders to develop three properties with 40 units of affordable housing. We are in discussions over the possibility of acquiring a portion of the former Osram Sylvania site to develop over 100 units of mixed-income housing.

We hired our city’s first bilingual workforce development and small-business assistance coordinator, who’s hit the ground running communicating with local businesses to understand and support their needs, from resources to job training.

We are currently in the process of redeveloping the High Street ballfield, constructing a basketball court next to the field and developing new tennis courts at Sacred Heart Park. We will be going out to bid in September to begin the revitalization of Jenks Park and the historical Cogswell Tower.

Finally, our city will be filing a Stage 2 Plan with the R.I. Department of Education on the exciting development of a new high school, a kindergarten through eighth grade school, and revitalizing three other school buildings. We have so much progress happening in Central Falls. Come visit.

Marc Larocque is a PBN contributing writer.