Pontiac Mill owner plans $43M project

Posted 1/31/02

By JENNETTE BARNESTexas developer H. Hampton Hodges won approval Monday from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to speed up regulatory permitting for the redevelopment of Pontiac Mills, a historic mill located on the Pontiac section …

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Pontiac Mill owner plans $43M project

Texas developer H. Hampton Hodges won approval Monday from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to speed up regulatory permitting for the redevelopment of Pontiac Mills, a historic mill located on the Pontiac section of Warwick near the Cranston line.
The RIEDC Board of Directors voted at its monthly meeting to grant Hodges Certificates of Critical Economic Concern, which grant the project priority for sooner consideration by the Department of Environmental Management, Department of Transportation and Coastal Resources Management Council.
Hodges was a personal friend of the late architect Bruno D'Agostino, who designed the plan that former buyer Michael Restuccia was going to use. After Restuccia defaulted on a $1 million note to buy the mill, Hodges signed a purchase and sale agreement with Pontiac Enterprises. He intends to move forward with the same design created by D'Agostino, who died May 31 at 58 years of age. The design gained a Master Plan change from the Warwick Planning Board and zone change from the City Council while Restuccia was still the prospective buyer.
In an interview Tuesday, Hodges said he plans to build in stages, starting with a hotel. According to RIEDC, the 160-room hotel would be followed by a restaurant/banquet facility, a 270,000-square-foot office complex, and 20,000 square feet for artisan and specialty retail shops. Three phases of work would be done over five-and-a-half years, at a projected total cost of $43 million.
Existing tenants of the mill, including wood and metal artisans' workshops and antique shops, have expressed fear that they will be evicted or asked to pay substantially higher rent prices. When asked if rents would rise, Hodges said, “We're not anywhere far enough along to decide that. If you have costs, the only way you can justify that spending is to raise [revenues].”
RIEDC executive director Tom Schumpert said the privately financed construction was easy to support because it will bring jobs and tax revenue and revamp the historic mill.
“We love that,” he said.
The proposal is expected to generate 1,200 permanent full-time jobs, with 900 of those jobs going to skilled workers at salaries of about $35,000 annually. One hundred fifty management positions would pay between $40,000 and $80,000 a year. The remaining 150 jobs would go to unskilled workers for $8-$10 per hour. Those numbers do not include temporary construction jobs, which RIEDC estimates to be “hundreds,” nor do they include current employees of companies that would move into the mill. The Economic Development Corporation expects the development to yield $900,000 in city taxes and $750,000 in state taxes annually.
Developer “Hamp” Hodges calls himself an entrepreneur. After graduating from West Point and commanding troops in Vietnam he resigned from the Army in 1969, going into real estate development, putting up shopping centers in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Fort Worth.
Hodges entered the oil and gas business in 1972. With business partners he purchased a pipeline construction company. In 1980 Hodges moved to Midland, Texas, and was among the founders of Buffton Corporation, an oil and gas company that eventually went public. The business moved into hospitality in 1990. In 2001 Hodges was still on the board of directors, and the company was called BFX Hospitality Group Inc. and listed on the American Stock Exchange. It went into private ownership under the name American Hospitality six months ago.
In recent years Hodges has served as CEO of Cottonwood Properties, a small real estate investment company in Dallas. He said he might be changing the company name before the Pontiac Mills deal is done.
The independent businessman has dabbled in politics but never held elected office. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1990 and 1996, and in 1998 lost a race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner.
Hodges, 64, said the mill would take his full attention in the immediate future. He expects to have a house in Warwick. Depending on what stage of construction is underway, Hodges said he would spend time in Rhode Island and in Texas.
“That's the way Texans are. They always go back to Texas,” he said in his southern accent.
He finds redevelopment is more difficult than starting from scratch because old buildings must be brought up to code. But he likes the challenge, and says the historic mill will make the project more fun. Once the hotel is ready, he plans to get it running before building the other phases.
“You get one area done and active and making money, and then you move on to other areas,” Hodges said.
May 1 is the target date to begin construction if all goes well with state and city permits. Plans call for completion by Dec. 31, 2007.
Hodges has a lot of good things to say about Warwick. Friends rave about T.F. Green Airport, he said.
“It's amazing the national recognition that airport has gotten. It's a very dynamic location. Few cities in the United States are positioned as well as Warwick, with the coastline and not as much snow,” the developer said. “I don't see many negatives, except it's not in Texas.”


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