NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The fate of the 5.03-acre Galilee property that accommodated the old Lighthouse Inn is still in limbo while the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) considers land-use proposals from the Town of Narragansett, the venture capital firm iCell Aqua, and PRI X, LP, the current lease holder.
The DEM requested land-use proposals for the site from all three bidding entities and subsequently requested supplemental information with an initial deadline of December 27, 2021. The request for supplemental information deadline has been extended to January 10.
Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney said he could not discuss the specifics of the supplemental information the town sent to DEM to comply with the department’s request, but that information will become public as soon as the town council votes to approve its contents.
According to town council member Ewa Dzwierzynski, PRI X, LP’s current lease is due to expire Feb. 28, so a decision from DEM could come in early February. The lease will be for 40 years with five-year increment renewals, and it will cost $180,000 a year. PRI X, LP, which bills itself as a Rhode Island-based, limited liability partnership composed of the ownership of Procaccianti Companies, Inc. and Paolino Properties, has been accused by town officials of violating the terms of its current lease on the property. Public pressure led DEM to consider alternative use proposals from the Town of Narragansett and iCell Aqua, as well as PRI X.
The iCell Aqua website states: “Our mission is to integrate food-based wastewater treatment and recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) to achieve a fully recycled economy of water and nutrients from production processes that create profitable environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments.” According to Dzwierzynski, the Lighthouse Inn property is not zoned for industrial use, so if the DEM were to award the lease to iCell Aqua, it would not be in compliance with Narragansett zoning ordinances.
The Town of Narragansett has submitted a “mixed-use” proposal that would include a hotel, office space, shops, and a parking garage, according to Dzwierzynski. “It would be like a village center,” she said of the development. Dzwierzynski indicated that Narragansett does not currently collect property tax for the site, and receives only $20,000 in taxes for the condemned Lighthouse Inn building.
Dzwierzynski is an avid supporter of obtaining the lease. She said, “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a blighted parking lot and restore our village center into a vibrant mix of uses that will strengthen our identity as a coastal fishing port.”
She added, “Without question, Galilee’s three main economic drivers include fishing, water transportation, and tourism and recreation. The current land-side redevelopment opportunity can exploit the massive economic potential of tourism and recreation industries that will complement the thriving fishing and water transportation sectors in the port.”
Dzwierzynski cited a 2020 University of Rhode Island report that states the value of a Blue Economy in Rhode Island is $2.8 billion. An excerpt from that report states,
“Although there are many interpretations of the term “blue economy,” this report defines the blue economy as the economic sectors with a direct or indirect link to Rhode Island’s coasts and ocean—defense, marine trades, tourism and recreation, fisheries, aquaculture, ports and shipping, and offshore renewable energy . Also included are higher education and research institutions, marine-focused advocacy and civic groups, and government agencies that contribute to building a strong blue economy workforce, invest in sustainable growth and innovation, and plan for the protection of our coasts and oceans.”
“Narragansett has a tremendous opportunity to exploit the economic development potential of the tourism and recreation sectors, which are under-represented in Galilee village,” Dzwierzynski said. “The town’s comprehensive plan is clear on this issue and is explicit in its development vision.”
President Pro Tem of the Narragansett Town Council, Susan Cicilline Buoananno, said she is “excited about the opportunity” to develop the site, but “cautiously optimistic” about the plan. “That is probably going to be a $15 million deal down there,” Buonanno said. “Part of me says the town has other priorities, such as the water situation, roads, and the bike path. We want to make sure our police and fire departments and our infrastructure are up to par. These are the priorities first and foremost. I don’t want to interfere with the priorities that residents have on a day-to-day basis. It’s critical that we can afford to do it. We want to make sure it is really going to be an economic engine. I would be happy to let the voters decide what to do with that property. Put it on a referendum. I want to make sure it has the voters’ approval.”
Buoananno is also concerned about the town’s future bond rating. “We have an outstanding bond rating right now. I want to keep it excellent,” she said.
Dzwierzynski countered that Narragansett can spend up to $800,000 a year for infrastructure without voter approval and can get the money through bonds to build roads and an adequate sewage system. She added that the site has great potential to be an economic engine. “We can introduce a mix of uses including affordable housing, commercial uses, and industries that can directly support the port – including fuel companies, net builders, super markets, wholesalers, retailers, and gear builders.”
Dzweirzynsky speculated that the town could generate about $625,000 in revenue if it were awarded the lease.