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Prescott Point: Pointing in the right direction
January 13, 2012

Pointing in the right direction

More units have sold and expansion is on the horizon since a new developer took the helm at Prescott Point.

By James A. Johnson

Daily News staff

PORTSMOUTH — A lot of things have changed since the dormant Freedom Bay development on West Main Road became Prescott Point about a year and a half ago.

When developer Christopher Bicho took over the project in June 2010, nine units were occupied of the 148 that had been planned on the 106-acre site overlooking Narragansett Bay and straddling the Middletown-Portsmouth line. Those units were next to others that were boarded up because windows, doors and even roofing had not been completed when the previous developer abandoned the project.

All that has changed.

"The first thing we did was finish off what was left behind by Freedom Bay," Bicho said this week in one of the newly finished units that serves as a model home. "Then we finished the exterior of all the units, putting up garage doors, windows, roofing, driveways and doing the landscaping."

The next step was to continue building the rest of the units in what is planned as a 59-unit first phase. A total of 26 units have been finished and 17 of them have been sold.

"When a potential buyer comes in now, it's all about the inside," Bicho said. "The outside work, the landscaping is all there."

The buildings are either duplexes or triplexes with single-level living. Each unit has two bedrooms and two baths with between 3,600 and 4,000 square feet of floor space. Prices range from $350,000 to $399,000. Prices were recently cut by about 15 percent.

To Bicho the future looks bright, despite the poor economy and slow housing market. In addition to the units that have been sold, he said he knows of eight serious buyers who have selected Prescott Point as their No. 1 choice, but are waiting to sell their house.

"That shows that we have the right product at the right price," Bicho said. "We are in a market that isn't experiencing a lot of transaction."

He said the original nine tenants are among his best salespeople.

Noel Ashworth and his wife, Mari, were among the first tenants in the original Freedom Bay development and are pleased with what Bicho has done. When Bicho's proposal was before the Zoning Board of Review, Noel Ashworth testified in his behalf.

"There is no doubt that Chris Bicho has made a great deal of difference," Ashworth said this week. "The occupancy has doubled, and in this current market, that is tremendous progress. He has cleaned up the site dramatically at the same time and made it more attractive. I think it is 'all systems go.'" Ted Hayes, who also lived in the development before Bicho came on the scene, called the improvements "dramatic."

"It was in the doldrums and there was concern for the future," Hayes said of the Freedom Bay development. "It's a living, breathing community now."

After finishing the 59 units in the first phase, Bicho said he plans to build 87 more units closer to the shore and a large building with 161 condominium apartments. A 14-room guest house also is planned, bringing the total to 320 units.

The original plan called for 60 square feet of commercial space fronting West Main Road, but Bicho wants to amend that project to allow smaller shops than originally planned. A community center also is part of the project.

"Obviously, it will take some time," Bicho said. "It will take 10 to 15 years by the time we get through this development. Our highest priority right now is to finish this first phase."

The main structure of the former Our Lady of Hope Novitiate, which included the chapel, still stands on the property, but will be torn down. Vandalism and salty air have taken their tolls on the structure.

Some of the novitiate is salvageable, Bicho said. The chapel bell has been donated to a church in Chepachet. A dedication ceremony was held about a week ago. The marble in the chapel is being saved. Some of it has been returned to the Diocese of Providence, and some is being set aside to be used around the fireplace in the community room.

The stained-glass windows and oak confessionals in the chapel also will be saved, Bicho said.

One obstacle Bicho had to overcome before taking over the development was an age restriction that was written into the project. Buyers had to be at least 55 years old. The restriction was lifted by the Zoning Board of Review.

"The irony of the thing is that most of the people who come through the door meet those restrictions anyway," Bicho said. "But the lack of the age restriction has been the biggest factor in our success."

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