October 25, 2021

Platt-Watters School Complex

Posted

TO: Bob DaSilva, Mayor City of East Providence

Community dialogue and analysis shows considerable concern for the plan to demolish the Platt-Watters School complex. A broad spectrum of neighbors, civic and local business leaders are calling for the immediate pause of efforts to demolish the complex due to concern of irreparable harm their demolition will cause to the long-term prosperity of the Riverside community. Our coalition is hosting a community meeting this December to share our findings and present the case for a re-evaluation of the Platt-Watters School complex and its role in the revival of the Riverside Square commercial district.

Location Matters
The Platt-Watters complex is located 1000 feet from the area commonly known as Riverside Square. In their former life, the school buildings served as a critical cog in the economic engine for The Square. The in-and-outflows of school children on a regular basis funnelled hundreds of families into The Square, providing opportunity for regular engagement with the local business community just a stone’s throw away. The closure of three elementary schools in immediate proximity to The Square has removed a substantial volume of visitors to the area and by extension their spending power.

The CDC study “Beyond Neighborhood Food Environments: Distance Traveled to Food Establishments in 5 US Cities, 2009–2011” established that the median distance from home to sit-down restaurants was 1.4 miles and compared with 0.6 miles to fast food/convenience stores. In fact, 45% of sit-down restaurant visits and 55% of fast-food and convenience store visits happen less than 1 mile from a person’s residence. The proximal importance of housing to food establishments  comes at a time when household sizes have steadily declined. Thus as household sizes decline, the importance of housing density increases in order to maintain the viability of commercial centers.

The Sierra Club has a calculator for measuring the effect of density on various outcomes. For every residence per acre,  .5 neighborhood service and retail jobs are created. Thus 8 residences on 2 acres would create 4 neighborhood jobs, whereas an alternative scenario of 25 residences on that same two acres would create 12 new, local jobs. By extension, 12 full-time equivalent jobs provide adequate staffing for two neighborhood restaurants (for example). On a tax revenue basis, those two neighborhood restaurants can be expected to contribute a minimum of $7,000 annually in food and beverage tax revenues and additional $5,000 in tangible taxes.

Tax Revenues
There is a strong case to be made for the redevelopment of the Platt-Watters complex as a condominium project solely on a new tax revenue basis.

Scenario One: 8 Single family homes

  • Demolition: -$350,000
  • Sale of 8 Lots: 8 x $70,000 = $560,000
  • Annual tax revenues on 8 SFH at $350,000 = $57,652/yr
  • 5 yr Internal rate of return: 79%

Scenario Two: 25 Condos

  • Environmental Remediation: -$100,000
  • Sale of remediated school buildings: $500,000
  • Annual Tax revenues on 25 condos at $275,000 = $174,144/yr
  • 5 yr Internal rate of return: 440%

Land Use
The Platt-Watters complex comprises two acres of land. The Platt building alone has 55+ parking spaces, more than enough for 2 spots per residential unit on a 25 unit condo project. There is an opportunity to reclaim as much as 15,000 to 20,000 sqft of currently paved asphalt as green space. The City could propose that the developer of the complex preserve the 10,000 sqft of currently paved space at the corner of Arnold St. and Burnside Avenue for a community pocket park, owned and maintained by the developer, but accessible to the public.

Communication
The 2017 Riverside Square Market Analysis recommended that the City “continue to involve partners – property owners, business owners, residents, civic leaders and stakeholders – in the efforts to revitalize Riverside Square.” To date, the Riverside community leaders have received zero direct communication from the City with respect to Platt-Watters School complex. This is a disrespectful practice at best, and in effect,  serves to blindside business and community leaders and their efforts to revitalize an economically challenged community. We are not an invisible hand that shapes the community. We are the very visible evidence of the prosperity of our community. Nothing less than our direct efforts are restoring Riverside. We continue to invest our time, resources, and in almost all cases, our hearts in the Riverside community. Direct engagement with the doers of this community will lead to tangible improvements for all. It already has. Open doors to us, don’t shut them.

Dominos
Riverside Square has been stuck in a rut for the better part of the last two decades. Take a stroll down memory lane on Google Street View to refresh your memory and to see how far we’ve come. One doesn’t need to spend more than a few minutes in the area of The Square to see how much farther we can go if we continue to push dominoes in sequence. 

  • Borealis Cafe (2016)
  • 332 Bullocks Pt Ave (2017) → Proud Mary’s (2018) → Union Burrito (2019) → Fuse & Spark’ patio (2020) → Union Burrito Cantina (2021)
  • 269-279 Bullocks Pt Ave (2020) → Fuse & Spark store front (2021) → The Elementary Builder (2021)
  • Vamco (2021)
  • Platt-Watters complex (2022)
  • Brendan’s School, Adelphoi Lodge, Iglesia de Cristo Agua de Vida, Century Sheet Metal, 27 Monroe Ave, Jerry’s Auto Repair

There is a reason that the Buckett’s building languished for years in disrepair, just as there was a reason Vamco’s RFP didn’t solicit responses year after year until 2020. There was a leadership vacuum in Riverside Square before the entrance of Brian Dwiggins in 2016. Brian’s Borealis Cafe created the opening necessary for The Apiary and its lenders to see a prosperous future in The Square. The success of The Apiary’s first project on Bullocks Point Avenue created the comp necessary for the more ambitious Buckett’s building redevelopment adjacent to Union Burrito. The type of incremental prosperity being seeded into The Square is accessible and contagious, but it needs people (moderate density) and space to continue growth (¼ acre to 2 acres lots). Take projects out of sizing sequence; Vamco before Buckett’s and progress stalls. Don’t allow the highest and best use, 3 residential units vs. 7 residential units on the 2nd floor of Bucketts; and the bank doesn’t provide construction financing. Create 8 single family homes on Platt-Watters; Fuse and Spark’s storefront can’t open. Worse yet, ignoring highest and best-use on 2 acres a stone’s throw from your next large development domino (St. Brendan's school) and the incremental comp for the next size-up development doesn’t exist. Progress stalls across the board.

As the metaphorical dominos fall the cultural capital grows commensurately in strength. The restaurants add local musicians to the Saturday night routine. The Christmas tree lighting grows from a two hour affair to a weekend long winter festival. The one way street gets shut down for the Sunday street arts festival. We become “the destination” for cyclists instead of the stop-over for coffee enroute to “the destination”. Community doubt about what we can accomplish becomes confidence about how quickly and how many we will lift by working together as Riversiders. The artists that will be recognized, the entrepreneurs that will get the chance, the youth that will get their clean streets and pristine parks.

Time
Doors leading to economically and culturally stronger communities open and close all the time for myriad reasons. What needs to be crystal clear to our City’s political leadership is that at this moment, leaders with vision, experience, and resources are at the door in Riverside. The only thing that will slow, but hopefully not stop, our “Riverside Renaissance” is poor political leadership. Leaders without vision. Leaders without the ability to confidently and clearly articulate the path forward to our community. Your civic and business leaders are standing by. Now, today, is the day to correct the course at The Platt-Watters School complex and allow us to get back to doing our work restoring the cultural center of our Riverside community.

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