By DANIEL KITTREDGE Cranston Print Works was once home to a thriving manufacturing operation - the oldest textile printing operation in the country, in fact, one founded in 1824 by William Sprague. Around it sprang a mill village that continues to define
Cranston Print Works was once home to a thriving manufacturing operation – the oldest textile printing operation in the country, in fact, one founded in 1824 by William Sprague. Around it sprang a mill village that continues to define the landscape of the area.
Now, a prominent New England mill developer is proposing a major overhaul of the historic site for residential and commercial use.
Members of the City Council and Planning Commission will gather at the property on the morning of Aug. 21 for a joint site visit, open to the public. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the intersection of Cranston Street and Dyer Avenue.
Representatives of Manchester, New Hampshire-based Brady Sullivan Properties, the applicant behind the proposal, will be on hand to outline what they envision and make the case for a zoning change that would be needed for the project to proceed.
No votes will be taken, and public hearings would follow at a later date based on any formal application from the developer.
In a statement Aug. 10, Mayor Ken Hopkins “expressed excitement and support for the potential redevelopment of the historic Cranston Print Works property by a well-established New England mill developer.”
“Generations of Rhode Islanders worked at the Print Works as it grew into a leading textile plant in our country. Many lived nearby in the Mill Village section of Cranston and were part of the rich heritage that grew right here in our city,” the mayor said in the statement. “Brady Sullivan will lead the area back with attractive and desirable housing with great amenities.”
The statement continues: “During a recent visit to City Hall I met briefly with Shane Brady, one of the principals, and I pledged the support of my administration to help revitalize this unique property. I look forward to the site visit and learning more about their vision for the Print Works property. When I took office, I placed a top priority on economic development. When you look at Rolfe Street and our plans for Knightsville, I see the redevelopment of the Print Works as the next major economic win for the city and all our residents.”
Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan, whose district includes the Print Works property, issued the following statement on the proposal: “The Cranston Print Works is central to the story of Cranston, and particularly Ward 3. I’m excited that a proposal has come in that will retain and rehabilitate the historical structures, while also building housing and other commercial spaces. If done correctly, redevelopment at the site offers a tremendous opportunity for our City and I look forward to reviewing the proposal.”
City Council President Chris Paplauskas, who represents neighboring Ward 5, said in a statement Aug. 12 that while he had not yet had a chance to review the plans, he views the project as “an opportunity to create another anchor point in the city.”
“We have so many great areas like Garden City, Rolfe Square, Chapel View, the Knightsville Gazebo, and now we can begin to envision the Print Works area as another focal point for development,” he said. “The Print Works property really sits at the doorstep of Knightsville, an area I have represented for many years now. I know firsthand there are many shops nearby that will thrive because of this, not to mention the numerous new businesses it could bring to the area. Honestly, it’s hard to hold my excitement and my expectations are high with the prospect improving this historic location. I look forward to reviewing the proposal and I couldn’t be more excited for it. We are a city of growth and this shows.”
The scope of what the developer envisions at the Print Works property is immense.
In an Aug. 6 pre-application submission, Shawn Martin of Providence-based engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill, which has been retained by Brady Sullivan Properties, outlines the contours of the proposed new development – approximately 200 apartments, 17 new single-family homes, tens of thousands of feet of self-storage units, and more than 30,000 square feet of commercial space, all served by hundreds of parking spaces.
“The project is anticipated to comprise a mixture of residential housing types, self-storage, and commercial/retail uses,” Martin’s introductory letter reads.
It adds: “One of Brady Sullivan’s key goals for the project is to retain and rehabilitate the historic mill buildings (c. 1880) and the historic meeting house (c. 1825), which are iconic symbols of this neighborhood’s community and manufacturing legacies.”
The legal advertisement for the Aug. 21 site visit lists four separate properties included in the redevelopment site – 1381, 1388 and 1390 Cranston St., along with 767 Dyer Ave. The Dyer Avenue property currently includes a two-family house, while 1388 Cranston St. consists of property between Fire Station 3 and the former church building.
City property records show Gabhaltais Teaghlaigh LLC, with an address listed in Winchester, Massachusetts, purchased all four properties from Cranston Print Works Co. in 2018 at a combined cost of $800,000.
Cranston Print Works closed one of its major facilities in Webster, Massachusetts, more than a decade ago and moved its manufacturing operations overseas. Today, the company continues to house corporate offices within the Cranston complex.
Based on the pre-application materials, the proposal from Brady Sullivan Properties would involve two major components on opposite sides of Cranston Street.
On the north side, 1381 Cranston St. – which encompasses roughly 17 acres and, in the pre-application outline, includes the Dyer Avenue property – the developer proposes to renovate the main mill building “to provide approximately 96 residential apartment units and approximately 67,000 square feet of self-storage space.”
“The existing three-story brick building (c. 1929), which is to the east of the main mill building, will be renovated to provide approximately 33 residential apartment units,” the outline in Martin’s introductory letter continues. “The buildings will be connected to the main mill building’s third floor with an elevated corridor.”
It continues: “Amenity spaces for residents will be provided on the first floor in the east wing of the main mill building along with approximately 24 indoor parking spaces in the main building. In addition to the apartments, approximately 17 single-family homes and a 72-unit apartment building are proposed in the northern portion of the site.”
On the southeastern corner of the 1381 Cranston St. site, the developer proposes to build a pair of self-storage buildings.
“The southern building contains 30 units and leasing office and the northern building contains 32 units with a total area of 11,600 square feet,” Martin’s letter reads.
In all, “approximately 400 parking spaces will be provided for residential and self-storage uses on this property.” Martin’s letter also advises that due to the scale of the project, it will require “multiple phases during construction.”
The 4.9-acre property sitting across Cranston Street – 1390 and 1388 – will be “redeveloped to include renovation of the existing historic meeting house building for a leasing office and commercial office space,” Martin’s letter reads.
“In addition, seven proposed self-storage buildings will include approximately 114 units of self-storage space and three proposed commercial storage buildings on the west side of the lot will provide a total of approximately 33,000 square feet of leasable space for commercial uses,” it continues.
Approximately 70 parking spaces would be created for this portion of the site, according to the letter.
According to the pre-application, the majority of the property is zoned as M-1 industrial, with the exception of a portion of one lot. That zoning does not permit residential uses and limits some commercial uses.
“While self-storage and office uses are permitted in the M-1 District, certain retail and commercial uses require a special permit (e.g. restaurant) or are not permitted (e.g. small scale retail),” the letter reads. “At this time, no prohibited uses are contemplated for 1390 Cranston Street.”
It adds: “The proposed redevelopment offers a mixed use opportunity to revitalize the Cranston Print Works property, but will require alternative solutions that address the zoning issues while maintaining consistency with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.”
The language of the legal advertisement indicates the applicant “seeks an amendment from the existing M-1 Zoning District (Restricted Industrial) to a special zone to allow the mixed-use of multi-family residential development combined with commercial storage/commercial flex space.”
Another factor, Martin’s letter states, is that the 1381 Cranston St. property is “partially located within the Special Flood Hazard District and the FEMA Zone A Special Flood Hazard Area associated with the Pocasset River.”
The letter states that both of the development sites “will incorporate sidewalks and consider bicycles in the design”
Brady Sullivan Properties – or, at least, its Rhode Island projects – may be familiar to some Cranstonians.
Hopkins’s statement notes the company “has a proven track record of success of providing housing opportunities” and “has completed other mill housing conversions in Rhode Island including the American Tourister property in Warren, the US Rubber property in Providence, American Wire property in Pawtucket, the Pocasset Mills in Johnston and the Harris Mill and Lofts at Anthony Mill in Coventry.”