Cornish purchases Lapham Building for $2.7M, sees trouble in historic tax credit cuts

(Updated, 5:15 p.m.) Cornish Associates LP has added to its Westminster Street portfolio again. The Providence firm responsible for much of the residential redevelopment of downtown has purchased the historic Lapham Building for $2.7 million, director of development Steve Durkee confirmed Monday. More

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Cornish purchases Lapham Building for $2.7M, sees trouble in historic tax credit cuts

PBN PHOTO
CORNISH ASSOCIATES has invested again in downtown Providence, by purchasing the Lapham Building at 290 Westminster St. for $2.7 million, with the goal of creating ground-floor retail and upstairs residential space in the nine-story structure. The Lapham wraps around the Tilden-Thurber Building, which sits at the corner of Westminster and Mathewson streets.
PBN PHOTO
THE NINE-STORY Lapham Building wraps around the Tilden-Thurber Building, giving it facades on both Westminster Street and Mathewson Street, above.
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Posted 6/10/14

(Updated, 5:15 p.m.)

PROVIDENCE - Cornish Associates LP has added to its Westminster Street portfolio again.

The Providence firm responsible for much of the residential redevelopment of downtown has purchased the historic Lapham Building for $2.7 million, director of development Steve Durkee confirmed Monday.

As with its neighboring properties, Cornish intends to convert the vacant nine-story office building at 290 Westminster St. into apartments with shops and eateries at street level.

However, those plans could be delayed if state lawmakers do not provide funding for Rhode Island’s historic tax credit program, which Cornish was hoping to deploy on the Lapham project, Durkee said.

“We are trying to grow this neighborhood and we know we need more apartments downtown to support the businesses emerging here,” Durkee said. “But it sure doesn’t seem like we will be able to do it without tax credits. The economics are difficult.”

The Lapham Building is the latest addition to Cornish’s Westminster Street holdings as the developer tries to expand the cluster of fashionable downtown residences it’s created further southwest toward Empire Street.

Last fall Cornish purchased the Kinsley Building at 334 Westminster, also to convert into apartments, and the former Roots Cafe Building at 276 Westminster, which it is reopening as the Aurora nightclub. It also owns 270 Westminster next door to the Aurora, which it plans to convert to apartments.

Cornish has secured $2.5 million in state historic tax credits for the Kinsley Building and is waiting for the city council to approve a tax treaty before beginning work. Durkee said he hopes to begin leasing apartments in the Kinsley by next summer.

Led by General Managing Partner Arnold “Buff” Chace, Cornish has been investing in downtown since the 1990s and at the northeast end of Westminster Street is still hoping to convert the 26-story Industrial Trust Building into apartments with owner High Rock Development.

Built in 1905 and home to the Mutual Benefit insurance company, the Lapham Building features a distinctive L-shape that wraps around the Tilden-Thurber Building at the corner of Westminster and Mathewson streets.

With 69,000 square feet of space, Durkee said the Lapham Building could hold about 50 apartments, and its shape provides unusually good views and light for an office building.

Although Cornish has yet to put together detailed plans for the Lapham, Durkee said it will likely have a wide mix of apartment sizes with some larger units than the Kinsley, which has been pegged for more affordable “workforce housing.”

The seller was the estate of the late Pierre de Bourgknecht, a former executive with a Boston audio equipment manufacturer. The sale closed May 23, according to online land records.

If historic tax credits are essential to the Lapham’s redevelopment, activity at the building could be a ways off.

Last week House Democratic leaders unveiled a state budget for next year that cut a $52 million historic tax credit authorization Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee had proposed in his budget and Cornish was banking on when it reached a deal with the sellers.

Groups including Grow Smart Rhode Island and the American Institute of Architects had already launched lobbying efforts Tuesday to have the historic tax credits restored to the budget.

The full House is scheduled to take the budget up Thursday.

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