WEST WARWICK — An old mill building in the heart of Arctic Village, its window panes broken or boarded over, is getting a new lease on life. 

Elected officials, developers and community members convened at the Arctic Mill earlier this week to celebrate the start of the redevelopment of two buildings at the site into a mixed-use complex that will comprise both commercial space and residential rental apartments.

“Reflecting on West Warwick’s lively past as a mecca of manufacturing along the Pawtuxet River, as a premier retail center in downtown Arctic, and as a melting pot of the many ethnicities who came here seeking opportunities and settled in our many small villages to work and raise families, I’m energized by the vision to redevelop this property into something that we can all be proud of,” Col. Mark Knott, West Warwick’s town manager, said during the groundbreaking ceremony, the 19th-century building rising tall behind him.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Congressman Jim Langevin and Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner were among those who had gathered Monday outside of the historic mill buildings, the former site of textile manufacturing in Arctic.

Situated beside a stone dam on the Pawtuxet River, the main mill building was built in 1865 using the stone walls of an earlier mill structure. In 1885, B. B. & R. Knight purchased the property, where 35,824 spindles and 1,039 looms operated into the 20th century. 

The Factory Street building most recently housed NATCO Products Corporation.

Knight Street Capital approached the Arctic Village Redevelopment Agency with a proposal to rehabilitate the building into something resembling its development at Warwick’s Pontiac Mills, and Knott said the town looks forward to working with the developer to make that vision a reality. 

The restoration of West Warwick’s neighborhoods and business community has been a priority of the town council, Knott added before a crowd that also included Sen. John Burke, Rep. Tom Noret, West Warwick Town Council Vice President Maribeth Williamson and councilor Jason Messier. 

“We’re excited to see an expansion of affordable living options with rental units, and are particularly intrigued by the possibility of a craft brew pub overlooking the scenic waterfall,” he said over the sound of rushing water.

The development will feature 136 apartments — 31 of which will be for households earning at or below the Area Median Income — as well as around 10,000 square feet of retail space, offices and a brew pub. Plans also include media rooms and a boxing gym.

The total development will cost $32.7 million, funded by sources including RIHousing’s Workforce Housing Loan, the Rebuild RI Tax Credit program and developer equity.

The project will also receive $4.3 million in federal historic tax credits — something that Reed said he’s particularly proud of.

“[Langevin] and I fight every year to make sure those tax credits are available, and they come to Rhode Island,” Reed said. “If you have the resources — as demonstrated by this project — you can put them to very good use.” 

Langevin added that for him, the impact this development will have on affordable housing in the state is especially exciting. 

“It’s no secret that Rhode Island has been lacking in affordable housing,” he said. “We need to remedy this problem by creating more affordable housing units.”

There’s a need, in particular, to offer housing across various price points, added Larry Phillips of Knight Street Capital, and the development’s residential options  will include both market-rate and middle-income housing.

The mill project will provide “much-needed rental homes in a very, very tight rental market,” said Carol Ventura, executive director of RIHousing.

“Today’s high demand, paired with low supply, has driven housing prices in Rhode Island out of reach for most middle-income families,” Ventura said. 

That was the impetus behind the creation in 2019 of RIHousing’s Workforce Housing Innovation Challenge — a program meant to help those caught between high housing costs and being ineligible for traditional affordable housing assistance. 

“This program is one important tool that helps respond to the need for middle-income housing by filling a growing and significant gap in a tight housing market of rising rents that has just been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ventura said. 

“Investing in housing at a range of price points makes sound economic sense,” she continued. 

Between its various amenities and the rental homes it will provide, the property is destined to become a gathering place that will “breathe life into this whole area,” Langevin added.

“Families, friends, neighbors will come together to make the most of this storied space,” he said. “It’s an important part of this town, and it’s going to become even more important going forward.”

This project is bound to spur further development in the area, Reed said — and perhaps help Arctic become a bustling village once more. 

“It’s time again for Arctic Mill to be the center of life and community in West Warwick,” he said. 

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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