NARRAGANSETT – Contending that The Lighthouse Inn, located at 307 Great Island Road, has fallen into a state of disrepair, the Narragansett Town Council recently requested an investigation from the RI Attorney General’s Office into a possible intentional breach of the lease agreement between Procaccianti Companies and the state’s department of environmental management (DEM). The inn is owned and operated by Procaccianti Companies, though the land it sits on, like much of the fishing village of Galilee, is state-owned.
Procaccianti Companies’ lease with the state is set to expire in August, though the state has an option to renew the agreement.
“The renewal is subject to meeting all the existing terms in the lease; however, for several years [Procaccianti Companies] has not complied with the terms of the lease, and the town of Narragansett asserts that [the company] is in default of the lease terms and should not be allowed to renew without remedying all defaults,” wrote the motion’s sponsor, councilwoman Ewa Dzwierzynski. “Further, DEM has failed to hold [Procaccianti Companies] accountable to meet the terms of the lease. The derelict property is now hurting the surrounding community and is adversely impacting the economic potential of the entire village.”
“[Procaccianti Companies] stopped operating the motel and restaurant and has allowed the property to fall into disrepair creating a dangerous, blighted condition,” the motion continues. “To make matters worse, [Procaccianti Companies] has intentionally breached the lease so that an argument could be made that the buildings are now dangerous and must be torn down.”
Constructed and opened as The Dutch Inn in 1967, the original structure and hotel served as a hotspot for local fishermen and townsfolk, but began to decline at the turn of the century. Procaccianti Companies acquired the property in 2005, when the hotel was facing bankruptcy, though little improvement was made. Procaccianti Companies has in recent years proposed for the property a 500+-space parking lot, a shopping plaza with added parking options and restaurants, though the town has remained skeptical.
The property sits nearly adjacent to the Block Island Ferry, which every summer season attracts thousands to Galilee wishing to board vessels bound for the island.
“I filed this motion because I think the Town of Narragansett deserves an explanation of how and why The Lighthouse Inn has become an eyesore and why the terms of the lease were not enforced,” said Dzwierzynski. “The lease contains very specific material terms that have been completely disregarded with absolutely no consequences. There’s something fishy going on and we deserve an explanation.”
The town council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the most recent proposal for the property from Procaccianti Companies, a shopping center and parking lot, in February. Narragansett solicitor Mark Davis said the town’s attempted communications with the state on the subject had produced little discussion.
“The town has basically been ignored to date,” he stated. “I think that a letter may get their attention. I’m surprised we haven’t received a response…Maybe we’re missing something, but the lease terms seem to be clear, and there seems to be a willful breach of those terms.”
“The lessee shall keep the leased premises and any building, structure or other appurtenance thereon, clean in good repair during the term of this lease,” reads the original lease agreement in 1990.
District 34 (South Kingstown, Narragansett) State Representative Teresa Tanzi voiced during public comment on the motion that going to the governor’s office with the issue may be more effective than requesting an investigation from the Attorney General’s Office.
“Whether or not Procaccianti has been in violation of their contract for this lease, it seems very apparent to any of us that have driven by it, we can understand that they haven’t opened their doors, they didn’t meet what appears to be the requirements for their lease,” said Tanzi. “But evicting someone is a very different process from not renewing a lease.”
Dzwierzynski stated the motion was intended to send a message.
“If we send it to the attorney general and he says he doesn’t want to investigate it, fine,” said Dzwierzynski. “If we don’t vote for it, we may lose that piece of property to a development that we don’t want.”
The council throughout the discussion noted the large amount of public support for the motion.
“When I first saw the motion, I thought it seemed a little aggressive,” said council president Jesse Pugh. “However, I received 50 or 60 emails, and every single one was in support of this. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that. Whether you agree or not, my role is to listen to what the people in town want.”
The council unanimously approved the motion and said it would enlist the help of Davis to write the request for the investigation.