543 Thames Street
Newport, RI 02840



Town Council Selects West Main Road Corridor Developer
October 19, 2021

(Original Source: https://middletownri.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=530)

CONTACT: Matt Sheley at (401) 712-2221 or msheley@middletownri.com

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (OCTOBER 18, 2021) – The Town of Middletown has a new potential developer for the West Main Road corridor between Coddington Highway and Valley Road.

At a meeting Monday night in Town Hall, the Town Council entered into a memorandum of understanding with the development team of the Landings Real Estate Group, First Bristol Corporation and Kempenaar Real Estates, Inc. to lead the proposed revitalization of the 15-acre site.

The group headed by Chris Bicho, James Karam and Rocky Kempenaar emerged as the top alternative of three proposals submitted to do something special with the land. The site is now home to the vacant Navy Lodge parcel at the corner of Coddington and West Main, the West Main Road Recreational Complex, Middletown Public Library and former Kennedy School properties.

Their 'Middletown Commons Town Center' plans features a mixed-use development includes market rate, workforce, senior and affordable housing, retail and restaurant space and a hotel. There's also a community park and green space as well as a library and cultural center.

However, Town Solicitor Peter Regan and others agreed the action taken Monday didn't lock the Town – or the developers – into anything. Rather, they said it was the beginning of a conversation in coming weeks – and months -- about what should be put there, if anything.

'This is an agreement to have further discussions with one party,' Regan said. 'If those discussions don't result in a plan that is acceptable to the Town or the other party, then you walk away. There's not a commitment to do anything other than to engage in discussions with this one party going forward.'

Standing before the council, Karam spoke passionately about the development team's desire to do something special and meaningful for the entire community. Kempenaar watched the action closely, thanking the council for their time and commitment and apologizing for Bicho, who couldn't make the session because he was out of Town on a previously scheduled business commitment.

'We have the basic concepts, we've looked at this, we've studied it, we've worked with our architects,' Karam said. 'We think it works. What we want it is a partnership. We want to hear from the Town. There might be things in there that you don't feel entirely comfortable with. There might be things you think should be added. There might be things you think should be deleted. At the end of the day, we'll work together and come up with a conclusion.'

With an eye to the future, the council asked in May that a Request For Information be widely circulated to get ideas from developers for the parcels in the heart of the community's commercial corridor.

At the time, local leaders said the project was a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity for Middletown. Potentially, it could allow the Town to recreate itself and its commercial sector and collect new tax revenues.

Previously, developers have said the town was losing at least $1 million annually by not developing the site and moving the library and softball field to more suitable locations.

Out of the RFI effort, three submissions were filed with the Town, including the Bicho-Karam-Kempenaar plans. The others were mixed-use plans from Bucci Development and Goldstein Associates and one from Allen Shers.

A memo from Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said each of the concepts was reviewed at length by himself as well as Town Planner Ronald M. Wolanski, Tax Assessor George Durgin and Rich Overmoyer, president and CEO of Fourth Economy, a consulting firm working with the Newport County Chamber of Commerce.

From that work, Brown's memo indicated the Bicho-Karam-Kempenaar concept was preferable for several reasons.

For one, the group planned on using private financing, state and federal incentives, grants and other non-tax funding sources to get the project done. Bicho also owns The Landings neighborhood immediately to the west of the proposed site, which allowed for integration of both developments.

The Bicho-Karam-Kempenaar team 'saw [the] opportunity to change the vision/gateway as people come into town' and were 'excited by the idea of a library/community center.'

Brown's memo also noted that all three were known quantities and had extensive experience working in Middletown.

Bicho's Landings Real Estate Group owns several successful properties in Town, including The Landings neighborhood as well as Prescott Point, Landings At Aquidneck Crossing and East Island Reserve Hotel. All told, his group oversees more than $300 million in real estate holdings.

Karam and Kempenaar have teamed up in the past to build several hotels in Middletown including the Homewood Suites By Hilton, Residence Inn By Marriott and Hampton Inn & Suites along West Main Road. Each company also has extensive development experience, whether it's residential, commercial and beyond.

Previously, Bicho's Landings Group was the lone application to a prior round of RFIs to reuse the site.

Throughout Monday's discussion, town officials made it clear the public would have multiple opportunities to chime in, comment and shape the development as it moved forward through the process.

No financial figures and what the Town might gain from the development were discussed Monday. For more information about the preliminary proposal, visithttps://mdl.town/WMRCorridoronline.

Council President Paul M. Rodrigues said he liked the housing component of the plans, something there was a dire need for locally.

'The piece that is attractive to me, obviously is the revenue long term for the Town, but is the housing, which is much needed…' Rodrigues said. 'We want to make sure any development, potentially yours if it ends up working out…we're covering as many bases as we can to fulfill the need of Middletown.'

'We totally agree with you on that,' Karam said. 'What really works well for the community and for the developer is a mixed use, where you have a certain percentage of market rate housing…and you still need to take care of the middle-income group and the lower income group. There are ways to do it.'

The future of the heavily travelled corridor has been uncertain for more than a decade. According to the latest traffic counts, more than 53,000 vehicles pass the property a day, making it one of the busiest – if not the busiest – spot on Aquidneck Island.

In March 2008, Navy leaders informed municipal officials they planned to release several federal properties across Aquidneck Island they didn't need anymore. That included former Navy Lodge land, which once had a hotel for base personnel before those functions moved inside the Naval Station Newport fence line.

After a lengthy federal review process, the town purchased the 3-acre site for $1.3 million in January 2018. It's next to what developers call one of the Top 10 most sought-after commercial intersections in Rhode Island at Two-Mile Corner where East Main and West Main roads meet.

Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas and others said they were happy to take the next step with the effort, which has been a long time coming.

'This has been on the table since 2008,' VonVillas said. 'It's time to move…I am tired of us not doing things. We need to move forward for the benefit of the town.'


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