NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The nearly five-year saga of what would become of the former Town Hall Annex at 55 Brown Street, and the subsequent 2018 special election to allow the town to sell the property, came to an end last week when Town Manager Ralph Mollis presented a check for $94,000 to the North Kingstown Free Library Corporation in accordance with the sale.
The property was sold for $100,000 to Eve Clulow, with whom the town entered into a purchase and sale agreement following the 2018 vote, who plans on converting the facility into a multi-purpose entertainment venue with space for the performing arts, a restaurant, functions and more while maintaining the historic building’s structural integrity.
“We are excited to move forward on this project which will be an asset to the village of Wickford while also providing the North Kingstown Free Library with funds that will allow them to provide valuable resources and services to the residents of North Kingstown and the thousands of visitors to the library, especially during these challenging times,” Mollis said. “I want to thank the residents of North Kingstown for their overwhelming approval of this sale and the Town Council for their vision in putting this on the ballot and their support and direction in the sale of this property.”
The donation was required per a 2018 judgment by the Rhode Island Superior Court after some descendants of Caleb Allen Chadsey, who upon his death in 1894 donated the site as well as $10,000 (worth over $302,000 in 2021) to the town for the purpose of creating a free library for the town’s residents, along with then Town Council member Ellen Waxman challenged the sale, saying it went against the initial wishes of Chadsey.
The building opened in 1899 as the North Kingstown Free Library and served the community as such until 1976, when it was replaced by the current North Kingstown Free Library located at 100 Boone St. The building then housed several different town bodies and became known as the Town Hall Annex before it was vacated along with Town Hall in 2016.
The Annex was in a state of limbo for a couple of years following, with an initial approach by the Wickford Art Association to relocate their gallery to the building falling through in 2017 before Clulow approached with partners to purchase the building. The sale was put to a vote in a special election held on April 24, 2018, in which 80 percent of voters approved the sale.
Still facing challenges, the Town Council voted to file a petition to the Superior Court, which was handed down in August of 2018 allowing the sale provided that the net proceeds would go to the library. Of the $100,000 the property was purchased for, $94,000 was given to the library, to be “spent on traditional library resources and services” as per the ruling, while the remaining $6,000 was retained by the town for the reimbursement for surveying costs and other related fees.
For Mollis, the sale provides two net positives for the community off the bat: increasing the North Kingstown Free Library’s budget while also adding another property to the town’s tax roll.
“This will be a significant improvement to the village of Wickford, the placement of a vacant building back on our tax roll and a significant contribution towards the services of the North Kingstown Library,” Mollis said. (The library’s) budget is very tight so I know it will (have a positive impact) without question, so just to give them the opportunity to provide additional resources to the thousands of residents that they serve on a yearly basis (is something) I’m happy to see that because it’s well-deserved.”
For the first time in over 100 years, the property will now be subject to taxes, something Mollis said is another added benefit.
“The Annex is a building that needed a lot of work and so it’s something that the town doesn’t have to embark on and it’s also now another property that’s on our tax roll, so it benefits Wickford, it benefits the residents, it benefits the visitors but it also benefits the town,” Mollis said.
Sitting in the heart of Wickford, Mollis believes the now former Annex has the potential to become an “additional significant entity” to the village upon its restoration, especially post-COVID, and another sign of the progress he said the village has made over the past couple years.
“We’ve seen a significant positive transition in Wickford over these last couple of years since we’ve installed sewers,” Mollis said. “We’ve seen more pedestrian traffic, we’ve seen more visitors, we’ve seen a couple of businesses come in and so we’ve really taken some giant strides in Wickford over these last 24 months. I think this will just be one additional significant entity that will just move Wickford even more forward. I think it’s going to provide a great resource, a potential performing arts theater, another place where people can potentially get something to eat at a restaurant. I just think it’s going to be a significant asset and ally for the village of Wickford and just complement the work that’s been done over the past 24 months.”
No further announcements on Clulow’s plans for the building have been made.