NARRAGANSETT – Carlos Mouta, the Connecticut-based developer who was in the process of purchasing the former Belmont building intending it for a food market, will not complete the deal, Narragansett Town Council President Matthew Mannix announced Monday. The council had last month approved in split vote a $2,070,145 deal that was heavily criticized by residents due to its lending of Mouta $1.3 million in a mortgage arrangement with the town to finance the purchase. Mouta’s withdrawal comes shortly after the town agreed to not sell the building as a result of a lawsuit filed by Love Your Library, a coalition of residents who advocate for a new municipal library at the space, in Washington County Superior Court last month.
“We received word on Friday that Carlos Mouta, who was buying the larger portion of the old Gilbane/IGA building, has not signed and is not going to sign that purchase and sale agreement,” said Mannix Monday. “The council is going to have to look at that and deal with that at its next meetings in November.”
The approximately 18,500-square-foot space, which previously housed two failed supermarket ventures and sat vacant for years, was intended for a new town library after a 2016 vote that saw 68 percent of residents approve a $5.8 million bond referendum for such. The current council, however, elected in November, boasts a three-member majority that does not support the project on a fiscal and logistical basis, and wishes to sell the space to make back the $2.8 million the town paid to Gilbane, Inc. for the building, a loading dock and a number of nearby parking spaces last year.
DSM Pier Realty, an LLC of Pier Liquors owners Debra and Steven Manni, in August purchased the second floor of the building from the town for $735,000. DSM Pier Realty was named as a plaintiff in the Love Your Library lawsuit blocking the sale, alongside Mouta’s PKV, LLC and the Narragansett Town Council. There has been no indication that the Pier Liquors owners are also withdrawing from the sale.
Jill Lawler, Narragansett Town Council President Pro Tem, said Mouta’s withdrawal was a result of the nature of the space.
“It’s unfortunate that the deal fell through,” she said. “This happens occasionally in real estate once a verbal agreement is accepted and before the buyer signs the purchase and sales agreement. Ultimately, the site did not meet [Mouta’s] business plan requirements.”
“We need to put the old IGA portion of the Gilbane Building on the market and get the best deal for the town,” Lawler added.
Once it decided to sell the property in January, the Narragansett Town Council did not publicly advertise the space or have it appraised, a move that angered pro-library project councilors and residents alike. The deals with Mouta and the Mannis were entirely negotiated and formed in executive session, with the public only able to comment for the first time on either sale on the night of their proposed passages by the council.
The feud between council and library board has expanded beyond the debate of the future of the former Belmont space, with the council cutting more than half of the board’s budget in the spring, citing what it called a surplus in excess of $680,000. The board, however, maintains the saved monies were intended for the new library buildout and to pay two employee pensions also recently cut by the council. Library board chair Laurie Kelly in a statement advocated for the council to move forward with the library project in the space and was joined in sentiment by fellow board members.
“With Mouta backing away from the private sale, we hope that the council will take this opportunity to move forward with the best use of this property–the new Narragansett Public Library–as was voted by 68 percent of the voters,” she said.
“You now have the opportunity to return the Belmont/IGA marketplace to the new home of the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library,” said Gloria Roman, a member of the library board, to the council majority Monday night. “You have the opportunity to return democracy to Narragansett and to follow the will of the majority of voters in 2016…This whole situation is a no brainer.”
In response, councilor Richard Lema pointed out that the 2016 ballot did not actually specify the project location in the wording of the referendum, causing the council majority in the past to state there were residents who voted in support of the bond that were ultimately not in favor of the former Belmont building. The library board has contested this, stating its prior needs assessment identified the former Belmont building as a potential location and the site was informally selected by the town council after a years-long discussion of possible alternatives. The matter of the 2016 vote is a focus of Love Your Library’s lawsuit, with the plaintiffs seeking a court ruling that the 68 percent of voters who approved Question #8 understood their votes would “secure the Belmont Building as the new home of the Library,” along with a temporary restraining order blocking the sale of the building.