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$400M Pawtucket soccer project unveils new look without plans for Apex

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The $400 million development project anchored by a professional soccer stadium in Pawtucket is moving ahead, but it looks a little different and is leaving the Apex site behind.

Brett Johnson, the lead developer of the project, announced the changes Wednesday during a Pawtucket City Council meeting where he unveiled new renderings of what would be the largest development in city history.

The changes include consolidating key parts of the proposal to two properties instead of three, as originally proposed, leaving out the defunct Apex department store.

“In light of how the project fits on the current sites, the two sites, my answer is what’s it’s always been,” Johnson said about the Apex site. “It’s a ‘nice-to-have,’ it’s not a must-have.'”

Fortuitous initially proposed building an indoor sports event center, hotel, conference center and commercial real estate on the Apex site, which is north of where the soccer stadium would be developed.

But new renderings include no plans for the Apex site, showing instead the indoor event center and hotel would be relocated to the Division Street site of the river’s eastern bank. As a result, the cost of the project could also be reduced, Johnson added.

The developer said he’d entertain adding the Apex site in the future, but is pleased with the redesign. The sentiment was echoed by his colleague, Dan Kroeber, who presented the changes to the council.

“We feel like we have the highest and best use of the Division site by relocating the event center and hotel to that site,” Kroeber said.

In addition to relocating parts of the development, Kroeber said the project would also pare back its initial proposal for office space, citing a reduced demand during the pandemic when so much work has moved remotely.

The project, however, would retain “flexibility for office uses when the market recovers,” according to the developer.

“We do think that the office market will recover, so we want to be able to get office spaces back in there,” Kroeber added.

Instead, Fortuitous now plans to “more than double” multifamily residential housing on both sides of the river on the Division Street and Tidewater sites, according to Johnson. Elements of the proposal left unchanged include the public riverfront amenities, including a park and pedestrian bridge that connect the developments.

When asked about the price range of the multifamily housing, Johnson said they would like a mix, but declined to provide specifics, saying it was too early in the process to know.

“We’re going to explore that in this next phase,” Johnson said.

Separate from the new design, Mayor Donald Grebien presented the City Council with a proposal to execute a land lease between the city and Fortuitous to develop on the Tidewater and Division Street parcels.

The terms include a 50-year agreement with two 25-year extension options at $1 per year, meaning the developer could hold onto the properties for a century and pay only $100.  

Grebien has advocated for the terms by citing the potential positive economic effects the development could bring to the city’s downtown, where new development is scant.

The development is expected to cost about $300 million in private funds and between $70 million and $90 million in public funds, which would be covered by the state’s Tax Increment Financing program. On the private funding side, Johnson said investors have not shied away despite the pandemic.

Fortuitous still needs to finalize a separate long-term lease agreement with National Grid Rhode Island, the state’s largest utility, which owns the land where the stadium would be built.

Kroeber told city councilors negotiations with National Grid have been positive, and a required environmental clean-up of the property is expected to begin this fall.

“We look forward to go onward and upward,” Johnson said.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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