NARRAGANSETT – The Town of Narragansett and residents are pushing for more control in a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and a national real estate company that will help decide the fate of the property at 307 Great Island Road, the home of the former Lighthouse Inn.
In a Rhode Island State Properties Committee Zoom meeting late last week that began cordially with all parties pushing for collaboration, town officials and residents ultimately squared off against representatives of PRI X, LLC, a subsidiary of Procaccianti Group, a multibillion-dollar national real estate investment company. The dispute concerns the Port of Galilee property that formerly housed the Lighthouse Inn before the hotel was recently permanently closed by PRI X after the building fell into disrepair. Like much of the land in Galilee, the site is owned by the state, managed by DEM and has been loaned to private companies like PRI X for development. Legally, developments on state-owned properties in Galilee that would benefit the lucrative and significant commercial fishing industry in the port are prioritized by the state.
Now, as the lease agreement between the state and PRI X is set expire at the end of July, the town and its residents, because the land is owned by the state, want more of a say in deciding the future of the property. In May, the Narragansett Town Council unanimously approved a motion to request the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office investigate a possible breach of the lease between DEM and PRI X, citing language in the contract that calls for the property and any building on it to be “clean and in good repair” during the term of the lease. At a meeting in June, councilwoman Ewa Dzwierzynski played a video featuring drone footage of the now dilapidated structure at the site.
“The attorney general’s office is concerned about the current condition of the site and particularly the fact that, because it is vacant, it has allowed nuisance factors to occur including the attraction and the use of that area by seagulls which is effecting many neighboring lots, businesses, cars with fecal excrement and other problems because of those seagulls on that lot,” said Gregory Schultz, designated representative of the Attorney General’s Office for the State Properties Committee.
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. PRI X acquired the property in 2005, when the hotel was facing bankruptcy, though little improvement was made. The company has in recent years proposed for the property a 500-plus space parking lot, a restaurant, a shopping plaza with added parking options and restaurants — though the town has remained skeptical that the site will mostly be dedicated to parking.
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.
“If you have such distaste for Galilee, why not just break the lease?” said Narragansett resident Dr. Al Alba Monday in response to PRI X’s repeated claims that the smell from nearby commercial fishing businesses in the port make the site unviable for a future hotel operation. “Why are you trying to fight for this lease? You put forth two proposals which pretty much would make it an oversized parking lot…it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out you’re going to be shuffling people over to Block Island for the purpose of potentially helping your Champlin’s Marina, which you just purchased.”
In December, Procaccianti Group, through its subsidiary Great Salt Pond Marina Property, LLC, purchased Champlin’s Marina on Block Island for $19 million.
PRI X has maintained that a hotel would not succeed in Galilee, due to climate change building requirements, the short-term lease structure with the state and the nature of the port. The company said it intends to work with both the state and the town in order to come to a collaborative solution for the future of the property.
On Monday, DEM Chief Legal Counsel Mary Kay proposed the MOA under which DEM would “work with [PRI X] and go out for a request for proposals (RFP) by October of this year to solicit interest of redevelopment proposals.”
“We plan on having a very large, public input and requests for input so that we can see what the maximum amount may be or see what the best options may be,” she said.
Under the MOA, proposals for the development of the property would be scored and ranked and a public process to provide input would take place. Proposals that would benefit the local commercial fishing industry would take precedence, said Kay.
The MOA would also require PRI X to provide a demolition timetable for the existing structure to DEM by Nov. 1. Additionally, lease payments from PRI X to the state would also increase under the new agreement.
“The original lease was for $40,000 a year, which was a very modest rental payment,” said Kay.
The rent, if the MOA goes into effect, would increase to almost $180,000 per year beginning Aug. 18. The increase was partially informed by a 2018 state appraisal of the Galilee site.
Kay concluded the MOA would require a plan for redevelopment of the site by January before dispensing bad news for the locals.
“Unfortunately, because of the need for parking in the port, some of it is going to have to be devoted to parking, but we believe we can find a good mix and we really are hoping to do this in a collaborative manner with the town, the public and the developer, who has told us many times they have resources to develop this property,” she said.
Town officials from Narragansett took particular issue with plans to demolish the building being prioritized while an RFP for the site was circulating, stating the planned demolition could disrupt the RFP process. Others were concerned about the RFP being created, distributed and managed by PRI X, a provision of the pending MOA between the state and the company. Dzwierzynski said she had several recommendations for the MOA prior to it going into effect, some of which included:
- Do not base the RFP on the assumption that the existing building will be demolished.
“It would be premature to design parking improvements prior to evaluating future development proposals submitted as part of an RFP process,” said Dzwierzynski.
- Include criteria for how RFPs will be evaluated.
- Objectives of RFP should be included in RFP.
“The town does not want to solicit proposals for mostly surface parking,” she continued. “Rather, the town wants a quality development plan with uses outlined in the comprehensive master plan which prefers mixed use of retail, housing and other listed uses.”
- DEM agree to include Town of Narragansett in development of RFP.
- State issue RFP instead of PRI X.
- Narragansett Planning Board approve all future development in accordance with site design requirements and Galilee Special District Plan.
“I hope that we have a viable plan put in place,” said Alba. “I don’t feel that we should rest on anyone’s laurels. I feel that [DEM] is doing due diligence. Regardless of PRI X’s past history and their property management, if they do not come up with viable plan, I think it’s DEM’s responsibility to say, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’”
Representatives of PRI X, in response to concerns about who would oversee the RFP process, said they were open to working with the town and the state during the proposal period.
Local representatives Teresa Tanzi and Carol Hagan McEntee also stated they did not wish to see only parking lot options proposed at the site.
“We can’t just say whatever goes, goes and that’s it,” said Hagan McEntee. “We need to be diligent about this and do what’s best for the town.”
Narragansett Town Planner Michael DeLuca echoed Tanzi and Hagan McEntee’s sentiments.
“Seeing what’s happening here now, as the town planner, I am dismayed that the prospect of having the site demolished without a plan in place is being considered,” he said.
The meeting ended with members of the State Properties Committee and officials representing the Town of Narragansett stating they would like to avoid the long process of litigation in regard to the property’s future.
A petition circulating that supports a “viable revitalization plan,” for the property and requests that the state to handle the RFP, rather than PRI X, has received nearly 500 signatures.