543 Thames Street
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Developer previews what's next after West Main Road development partnership with Middletown
October 20, 2021

(Original Source: https://www.newportri.com)

As proposed, the development would be called Middletown Commons Town Center.

The partnership was made between the town of Middletown and the development team of the Landings Real Estate Group, First Bristol Corporation and Kempenaar Real Estates, Inc.

Developer Chris Bicho, who owns The Landings, said in an interview with The Daily News he's been trying to develop this land for the past 15 years and is excited about the passing of the MOU.

He added beginning development on the property will take some time because there are many studies that need to be completed on the land.

"The first step is we'd have to work out a memorandum of understanding with the town, which would give us time to really do what's necessary on the land," he said. "That development parcel needs an enormous amount of infrastructure study, market studies. We have to investigate the water, the sewer capacities. We have to investigate and solve the traffic situation that will be generated from that development, so we're hoping to get an agreement where we have time to do all of that work, and in addition, work with the town to come up with the right zoning for that parcel, so that we can accomplish some of the objectives of the development."

Bicho said the property currently is a hodge-podge of things that aren't really being used that much. Currently there is an open field, a softball field, basketball courts, the Middletown Public Library and the former John F. Kennedy Elementary School.

"Now you have this ability to have a pedestrian-friendly, very activate retail, hospitality, housing, mixed-use, kind of like a Garden City-ish type of place, but with housing mixed into it," he said.The development, Bicho said, will not only be mixed-use, but it will be pedestrian-focused and will drastically increase the curb appeal for that area.

The hope, he says, is it will encourage the east side of West Main Road to make improvements.A large majority of the development will be housing, some of which will be affordable housing. There will also be hospitality and retail components on the property."We're also going to work with the town to reposition the library and work to deliver the residents in Middletown a world-class, updated, technologically superior library/cultural center, because libraries have changed, so that's something that's being considered as well," Bicho said.

"None of this is in stone," he added. "A lot of work needs to be done, but those are the ideas that we put forth in our presentation, that obviously resounded with the council members and Planning Department.

"The retail spaces will be filled with active retail ventures such as entertainment and restaurants.

It'll take time to complete the process and because of the nature of the MOU, either party, the town or the development group, could walk away and decide not to move forward with it.

They'll also have to work with Naval Station Newport because the Navy owns a little piece of the land that will have to be turned over to the town in order for the development to occur.

Bicho said the development team first will need to convince the town for time to figure out what the property constraints and opportunities are. Once that's completed, he said there's a great value and culture system in Middletown and excitement in the town and in the Planning Board to move this project forward, which will dictate how fast they can go.

"The more enthusiasm we can get from the Planning Board and the Planning Department, which they already have, we can really move forward," he said. "I mean, ideally, in 12 months, I think that'd be a reasonable time to have a plan in place, have an agreement in place, and have something to execute."

Residents who live in Navy housing, The Landings and Harbor Village — two nearby apartment complexes — also will have direct access to the development. "You look at those three developments, and there's about 2,000 people who live there, so all of these people are going to have access to all of this retail. So that's very exciting," he said.

Of the councilors who voted for the MOU Monday night, Bicho said they're enthusiastic about the project and, as his team works to create the plans and develop the property, will be wowed when it's done and what it'll to do for the town. "It's really going to change, in a real positive way, coming down that West Main corridor. Really, it's just going to brighten it up," he said.

"It's going to be vibrant, there's going to be a lot of energy that comes off this."

Bethany Brunelle can be reached at bbrunelle@newportri.com 575-644-1223 or @bethanyfreuden1 on Twitter, Insta: bethanyfreudenthal, TikTok: thehijabicrimereporter, Muckrack: https://muckrack.com/bethany-freudenthal

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