Island arts group withdraws bid on former town offices
The Jamestown Arts Center has withdrawn its bid for the old town office building on Southwest Avenue, where the organization had hoped to establish its headquarters, because of wetlands and Native American artifacts which restricted use of the property.
"It was heartbreaking for everybody involved, the town was so incredibly helpful," said JAC Vice President Elizabeth Congdon.
Congdon said that because the property includes wetlands, there were restrictions limiting possible uses of the land, in addition to an underground spring that was at the rear of the property. There are also many Native American artifacts on the property, which further restricted uses.
JAC would not have been allowed to build additions onto any of the buildings, Congdon said. The pair of buildings on the back side of the property were not usable, she added. "We had a business plan and we had generous benefactors. We had the support of the Rhode Island Foundation, it could have worked out perfectly, we just needed the space," she said.
Congdon said the decision not to purchase the town property had nothing to do with finances, and was independent of the current economic climate.
Jamestown Town Manager Bruce Keiser said the town was aware the JAC was facing hurdles in acquiring the former town office building, which he said the town had used for about 30 years.
Keiser said that in addition to the wetlands and artifacts, there were also concerns because the area is designated as a flood plain. However, Keiser said, the town never had flooding problems.
"If a person were to use the main structure...and converted the property into lawn or turf, then they would not likely confront any [flooding] problems whatsoever," he said.
The area was originally proposed as affordable housing to be developed by the Church Community Housing Corporation, a non-profit group based in Newport. That plan was abandoned, Keiser said, when the State Historic Preservation Committee discovered the Native American artifacts on the property. It is
believed that the site was a significant settlement, thousands of years old, he said.
"We knew they were hurdles for the JAC to overcome," Keiser said, adding that many of the artifacts found were pottery and other tools.
He said the artifacts on the land prohibit extension of the dimensions of the
JAC President Kate Petrie said the office building was ideal, because it had a lot of parking space, was close to town, and was "inspiring" because it had aesthetic qualities. Petrie also said there were trees and people could hear the birds.
Going forward, Petrie and Congdon said the JAC is looking at other properties, but space and parking needs are making the search difficult. The need for multiple classrooms rules out many buildings.
Both women stressed the urgency of finding a location soon to maintain the project's momentum. Petrie said that because the Newport-Jamestown area is much more active in the summer, that energy will carry over into JAC activities. "We want to have everything wrapped up hopefully within the month, ideally," Petrie said.
Keiser said the town will put the office building back on the market, and expects the property will draw "significant" commercial and residential interest. Town zoning allows commercial or residential use of that property. Keiser said the building could be used for offices or converted into a single- or multiple-family dwelling.
The property is large enough to accommodate parking for businesses, Keiser said.