NARRAGANSETT – While the Narragansett Town Council heard from many speakers last week opposing the sale of the former, 18,500-square-foot Belmont building in the Pier Marketplace to an out-of-state developer, one voice of dissent came from Dist. 34 (South Kingstown, Narragansett) Democratic State Representative Teresa Tanzi, who had harsh words for the town council that ultimately approved the sale in split vote.
“Where is the due diligence on this?” she asked. “It gives me no joy to stand up here and ask this question, but I feel compelled to. You all are about to take a vote on something that has only had a very brief public vetting, and appears to not have a very good vetting to begin with, for it to even appear before you.”
Tanzi’s comments came just before the council voted to approve a motion to sell the former Belmont property to PKV LLC, an entity of Carlos Mouta, a Hartford, CT-based developer, for $2,070,145. The Sept. 3 meeting was the first time the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal, which included the town entering into a three-year, approximately $1.3 million mortgage arrangement with Mouta to finance the building’s sale. There was no cash-down deposit from the buyer prior to the sale and no business plan presented to the public reflective of Mouta’s supposed intentions to construct a food court in the space. Apart from an initial $750,000 deposit being required after the sale’s approval, Mouta would pay only about $5,000 a month in interest until he could pay back the remainder of the loan to the town. Further, Mouta himself was not present at the Sept. 3 meeting.
The property, previously owned by the town and envisioned to house its new municipal library, had not been officially advertised, listed for sale or appraised since its purchase by the town last year, and discussion of its sale was handled exclusively in executive council sessions closed to the public prior to the Sept. 3 meeting. Noting this at the meeting, and waiting until most had voiced their opinion, with the vast majority against the sale, Tanzi took to the Narragansett Town Hall’s assembly room podium and delivered a blistering statement echoing most of the sentiments voiced by residents concerning the deal.
“I’ve spoken to people all over the state in the time since this has been listed,” she said. “In fact, I heard about it, and I honestly could not believe that it was true. And then when I saw that it was listed with my own two eyes, I have been making phone calls since Thursday, speaking to people and asking if they have ever heard of a town holding the note for a private business and the answer, to a T, has been ‘no.’ No one that I spoke with has ever heard of a town doing this… And while I’m not a banker, I can’t think of the last time that I heard about an interest-only loan with a $1.3 million balloon payment.”
“In fact, the last time I heard about something like this was right before the financial collapse [of the country],” she continued. “This was a common practice back then when people didn’t do their due diligence.”
The 2016 election in Narragansett saw 68 percent of those voting approve $5.8 million for a new town library. The previous council purchased the former Belmont property in October of 2018, along with nearby space, for $2.8 million to house the facility. The 2018 election, however, saw a shift in council membership to a majority that did not support the project in its current form, citing financial and logistical problems with its buildout in the Pier Marketplace. In January, the council put the property purchased for the project up for sale, prompting resident demonstrations, petitions and lawsuits. In late August, a sale was approved by the council that gave ownership of the second floor of the space to a liquor store, prompting many to believe the hammer that would kill the library project outright would soon fall. The drop happened Sept. 3 with the motion to sell the remainder of the building to Mouta for approximately $2 million.
“I beg of you to table this,” said Tanzi. “I beg of you to not take this vote tonight. There is no rush to do this and I ask how can you do this to the town?”
After her statement, Tanzi’s words were met with long and loud applause.
Prior to her statement Sept. 3, in a letter to the editor that printed in the Narragansett Times’ April 31 edition, Tanzi came out in support of the library project, arguing a larger space was needed due to the current 9,000-square-foot facility’s lack of capacity.
“It was clear that our library was at capacity and in need of more space to meet the needs of our community,” Tanzi wrote regarding an event at the library she attended near the time of the letter. “Our town council has done a 180 and is now actively seeking to sell the very property that had just been purchased to be the new home of our library. This is not the will of 67.9 percent of Narragansett voters, who clearly expressed their support for a new library location…That’s why I am proud to support our Maury Loontjens Memorial Library and the new home it deserves to meet the growing needs of our community. Let’s put petty politics aside, follow the will of Narragansett voters, and get this important project done.”
Tanzi is the only elected official at the state level to show public support for the library project.