2015-04-16 / Front Page

Residents hear about PAC Club referendum

By Margo Sullivan

Buying the Portuguese American Citizens Club and converting the building into a recreation center could add as little as a penny to the tax rate, Town Administrator Andy Nota said. The actual tax impact, however, would depend on the project’s significance and how the town managed the debt.

Taking the “path of least resistance,” Nota said, architects from Aharonian & Associates composed the first drawing of the building as it might look if the town developed the property as a recreation center.

Voters will decide on April 28 whether or not to buy the property at 138 Narragansett Ave. In advance of the all-day referendum, Nota held a Q-and-A session on April 7. About 80 people attended. They asked about the costs, tax impact, and what would happen with the existing recreation center on Conanicus Avenue.

“The only decision on the 28th is to buy the property,” Nota said.

Town Administrator Andy Nota on April 7 unveiled conceptual drawings of a renovated Portuguese American Citizens Club. No design plans have been vetted, and the images were provided for example purposes. 
Alex Ziemba | Aharonian &Associates Architects Town Administrator Andy Nota on April 7 unveiled conceptual drawings of a renovated Portuguese American Citizens Club. No design plans have been vetted, and the images were provided for example purposes. Alex Ziemba | Aharonian &Associates Architects Specifically, the town has signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Holy Ghost Society to buy the 1-acre site for $800,000, contingent on voter approval.

He indicated the price is a good value, especially given the central location. The impact on property taxes would depend on how much renovation the community wants to undertake, not only for the building, but also for other projects. The purchase could amount to an extra penny on the tax rate, he said, and agreed to provide specifics before the vote takes place.

Currently, the property is assessed for $785,000, and the most recent appraisal put the value at $810,00, Nota said. The town is offering $800,000. The community would also gain “the value of controlling the future use of the property.”

“Beyond that, it’s all conceptual,” he said.

Nota has proposed converting the building into a recreation center, but said the other compelling reason to take it off the market is to protect the building and neighborhood. He also said it would “provide opportunity.”

Nota showed slides. “Some may hate this building,” he allowed. The front of the club would be substantially the same, but the rear would get revamped.

“The whole back of the building is taken off,” he said. The roofline would also be new, and the inside would have a cathedral ceiling.

Ultimately, Nota said, the PAC building could become part of an “intricately tied together puzzle.” He mentioned other pending capital improvement projects, such as the fire station expansion, replacement of the golf course clubhouse, library renovations, and Fort Getty infrastructure improvements.

Voters at the financial town meeting will decide on June 1 whether they want to expand the fire station. Meanwhile, Nota said, the clubhouse project is on hold.

Given the other capital projects, residents wanted to know how much debt the town can carry.

“It’s a great question,” Nota said.

Jamestown’s tax roll is $2.2 billion. Per state law, total debt must not exceed 3 percent, which would come to about $65 million. Currently, the town has $9 million in debt. If the voters opted to add $5 million for the fire station and Holy Ghost property, the total would still be less than 1 percent and “well within our limits.”

Nota said the school debt will also be retired in four to five years.

“It would be easy for me to say it’s going to cost $5 million,” he said. However, “I don’t really have a basis without knowing the scope the community will want.”

Within six or seven years, Nota said, the town could see all of its municipal and school buildings in good repair. Granted, the community center and Fort Wetherill will still need work, but the town would be moving forward.

Residents also wanted to know how to assess the costs of acquiring and converting the PAC Club to a recreation center, including the revenue loss that the town will incur by taking the property off the tax roll.

Nota indicated that he could not give a solid number. “You could spend $3 million or $1 million,” he said.

The multimillion-dollar difference would depend on how much money the town could save by consolidating services at the Holy Ghost property, and whether the community opted to hold off on doing other projects.

For example, the scope and cost of the clubhouse could be reduced substantially if the town owns the Portuguese club and doesn’t need space at the golf course for recreational programs.

Nota said the building has been inspected, and the structure is sound. Most of the repairs and renovations would be part of converting the property to a municipal property.

“To convert it to a public facility, sections will have to be taken down,” he said. “The kitchen is one of them.”

Nota said the banquet hall would not be part of the recreation center because the use would be incompatible. He would not want to have alcohol in proximity to a teen center, for example.

Nota said “tension between user groups” had caused issues at the rec center and Lawn School, where the community’s only fullsize gym is located.

Currently, the senior citizens use the Conanicut Grange, and 30 years remain on the lease. Nota said “it remains to be seen” if the PAC would take over for senior activities.

The residents also wanted to know if the town can maintain two community centers: the Portuguese club and the former USO building on Conanicus Avenue.

Nota believes the town should not sell the USO hall, but rather operate it as a public-private partnership. It would be “one monumental decision to sell” the property at 41 Conanicus Ave., he said.

According to Nota, that type of partnership could mean some issues with parking and noise, but both could be managed with ordinances to protect the neighborhood.

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