The Town Council Monday gave its approval to plans for the Town Hall Annex to become a “mixed-use, multi-purpose venue for performing arts, dining, and private and public functions,” authorizing Town Manager A. Ralph Mollis to proceed with negotiation of a purchase-and-sales agreement and scheduling of a special election date.
The process has been months in the making after a request for proposals for use of the Annex was issued in October. The council and Economic Development Administrator Liz Dolan were mum on developments as negotiations continued throughout the fall and winter, but the concept for the building was made public at Monday’s meeting.
The proposal, submitted by Eve Clulow and her two partners, Linda Supron and Megan Healey, was the only formal response to the request for proposals.
“The proposal has good vision,” said Mollis, who assembled an evaluation committee to review the plan. “It was comprised of an impressive team with connections to Wickford ... The proposed use is both exciting and in line with the business and residential community of Wickford, and the development was not asking for any tax incentives that anyone else would not be eligible for throughout the town of North Kingstown.”
Clulow provided a condensed version of a 60-page report on the plan through an 11-slide presentation during the meeting. She said there is no intention to make changes to the facade of the building, which has been vacant since 2016. However, in order to make the Annex compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, an addition with an elevator must be constructed on the side of the structure. She said the initial rendering depicts that elevator section as larger than it will be, once completed.
The plan shows an open lobby and bar with a kitchen and small theater on the first floor. The second floor would have another bar with an open area, while the deck would also feature some seating.
The likely plan for the first three months, Clulow said, is to open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The “long-term goal” is to have a permanent community theater, among other amenities.
“Our vision is to preserve the historic building and provide Wickford with a superb venue for the public that can be used for a variety of purposes,” said Clulow, the project’s executive director. “[A] mixed-use, multi-function facility for the performing arts, dining and private and public functions. It’ll serve as a cultural anchor for the community to complement current and future businesses and provide sales and property tax revenue.”
Clulow listed weddings, holiday parties, dances, recitals, lectures and cocktail receptions as potential events at the future location. Entertainment would be reserved for Fridays and Saturdays. There would be a full-service restaurant open one night a week as well.
“We wanted to be very conservative with our budgeting numbers,” Clulow said of being open only three days a week to start. “We want to get buy-in from the community. We want to be able to be flexible that if there are things, anything from menu items to activities that are going on there, that are not in touch with what the community wants, we want to be able to be flexible to serve them.”
The community’s feedback was positive, beginning with a round of applause after Clulow finished her presentation. Natalie Coletta, a member of the Wickford Design Guidelines Steering Committee, was supportive of the plan but suggested more transparency on talks going forward.
“[This] is an incredible [plan] for our town ... I’m fully in support of the proposal,” she said.
Dedication to the history of the Annex building was a significant component of Clulow’s presentation. The Annex housed the town library for more than 75 years until 1975. It was first conceived upon the 1894 death of Caleb Allen Chadsey, who left the town $10,000 and the plot of land at 55 Brown St. for the purpose of creating a public library.
“This magnificent, historical building sits vacant and in need of a complete restoration, so it can once again serve Wickford village and the North Kingstown community,” Clulow’s presentation reads.
Dave Wrenn also backed the proposal, but wanted to ensure the building was protected beyond future ownership.
“I want to say it sounds like a great project and I wish you a world of success,” he said. “This community is pretty much based on a foundation of historic preservation, whether it be through the efforts of residents or organizations ... I would like to see some kind of mechanism or legal vehicle in place to ensure the preservation of that building beyond the people that are sitting in this room today.”
Town Council President Richard Welch said the council “will make certain that the property is protected ad infinitum.”
“Rest your fears,” he said. “There’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done between now and any change in ownership. We all feel the same way.”
Clulow called historic preservation a passion of hers. She said her grandparents purchased Vernon House, the Newport home that was the headquarters for the French army during the American Revolution, in 1964, and she has served as its full-time resident and custodian since 2006.
“It was their life project to restore it, it was my mother’s life project to restore it, and it’s now continuing in my life to maintain it,” she said. “Restoration never stops. We know that with old buildings it’s just a constant thing ... I don’t have any interest in being a bad neighbor.”
The price tag on the building alone is $100,000, while a $1.3 million loan will go toward construction. Clulow said a $700,000 term loan will be dedicated to “interior finishes and start-up expenses.” She projected the business to break even by its third year.
The council’s approval came on a 4-1 vote, with Councilor Ellen Waxman the sole dissenter. She said she was not comfortable voting in favor of the plan without a purchase-and-sales agreement containing a preservation easement from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
Town Clerk Jeannette Alyward said she, town solicitors Matthew and James Callaghan and Mollis will draft a question for the special election to present at the next council meeting Jan. 22. The vote would take place on or before April 24.
The full report is available on the town’s website, northkingstown.org, under the “Town News” section and the headline “Brown Street Annex Building Development Proposal.”