The battle was tough and fiercely fought, but the outcome to date satisfies the major combatants in the long-running saga of Dowling Village, a 122-acre, $85 million retail and commercial center under development off Route 146A in North Smithfield.
Dowling Village, named for its location on the Eddie Dowling Highway (aka Route 146A), when built-out promises to be one of the largest retail and commercial centers certainly in northern Rhode Island and possibly the state. Some 600,000 square feet is available for lease in the mixed-use development.
The four-phase project by Bucci Development in Warwick, which was in the works for at least the last six years, has drawn two major businesses so far to the sprawling site near the Woonsocket line, a CVS/pharmacy store and a Wal-Mart Supercenter, with more retail enterprises on the way, according to Brian A. Bucci, principal of the development company.
Bucci said the development is like no other, in part because of its rustic character.
“It’s very visually appealing,” he said, describing a winding road with timbered guard rails and high-end street lamps taking visitors to a Wal-Mart set in a forest of trees. “You feel as if you’re out in the middle of the woods. It’s surreal,” he said. “You don’t see many shopping centers like this.”
Bucci confirmed only that he is talking to other retail concerns about acquiring space, but would not disclose who they are until written agreements are signed and firmly in hand, he said.
An unusual aspect of the project would see installation of a wind turbine to generate electricity for Wal-Mart and other stores in place of an earlier plan to construct residential units on the same 42-acre parcel land. The turbine installation, however, is dependent on getting a state grant.
The office of North Smithfield Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton has a made a point of cooperating both with the developer and with the major Dowling Village opponent, a well-organized group of town residents led by Caroly Shumway known as the Valley Alliance for Smart Growth.
“Residents raised a lot of questions at lots of public hearings, but I think we’ve managed to allay a number of their fears and, after a long period of time, we’ve ended up with a better project,” Hamilton said. “There are ups and downs to every project, but we’ve had a good relationship with everyone participating right along. In the long run, I think it [Dowling Village] will be beneficial to the community.”