Legal tangle hinders power station redevelopment

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

To build a long-sought academic and nursing-school complex in Providence’s would-be Knowledge District, project leaders will have to untangle the painful legacy of the failed Dynamo House project that came before it. More

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DEVELOPMENT

Legal tangle hinders power station redevelopment

PBN FILE PHOTO/NATALJA KENT
WHAT’S THE PLAN? Commonwealth Ventures LLC and Brown University are planning to turn the South Street Power Station into an academic and nursing-school complex. But hurdles remain, including liens on the property and $26 million in historic tax credits controlled by current owners.

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 1/13/14

To build a long-sought academic and nursing-school complex in Providence’s would-be Knowledge District, project leaders will have to untangle the painful legacy of the failed Dynamo House project that came before it.

That’s the message in the Providence Redevelopment Agency’s Davol Square Redevelopment Plan, the city’s roadmap for making the South Street Power Station property usable again.

Ownership of the vacant power plant is hampered by multiple stakeholders, mortgages, deed restrictions and up to 20 mechanics liens tied to one of the most ambitious and ill-fated public-private partnerships in the state’s history.

And then there are the $26 million in state historic tax credits attached to Dynamo House that the partnership between Commonwealth Ventures LLC and Brown University intend to use to help finance construction. The current owners of the power station control the tax credits.

With this tangled legal web in mind, the city’s Davol Square Plan lays out a strong case for seizing the power station using the city’s powers of eminent domain if clearing the title through negotiation fails.

“These title and mortgage issues create a diversity of ownership, which, unless corrected, make any development on this property infeasible,” the Davol Square Plan says. “It may be necessary for the PRA to acquire certain interests in real property in order to effectuate the redevelopment of the Power Station in accordance with this plan. The preferred method of acquisition is through consensual negotiated purchase, but the PRA is authorized to secure this interest through eminent domain.”

The Davol Square Redevelopment Plan is the first public sign of forward progress in the project to rehabilitate the former power station since Brown and Commonwealth unveiled it in June.

The $206 million project would renovate the hulking 1912 building into 120,000 square feet of administrative offices for Brown and 120,000 square feet for an advanced nursing education center to be leased by the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. On the site of what is now a parking lot owned by Commonwealth next door, a 150,000-square-foot student apartment building would be erected with stores and incubator office space for local startups.

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