Lighthouse Inn proposed for demolition

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 9:30am

Reprinted by special permission from
The Narragansett Times

NARRAGANSETT — Fifty years after its construction, the Lighthouse Inn has been proposed for demolition. The request comes from Procaccianti Companies (PC), the current lessee of the Galilee property from the state. The company has suggested the leveling of the building, constructed in 1967, in order to build a 544-space parking lot at the site.

The Lighthouse Inn property is currently operated as both a hotel and a 300-space parking lot, mainly utilized by Block Island Ferry goers. Much of the property in Galilee is state-owned and leased out to businesses. PC is seeking an amendment to the current lease agreement that would allow the site to be used exclusively as a parking lot while the company searches for a business venture for the property, a move that requires state and Department of Environmental Management (DEM) approval.

On Tuesday night, Narragansett’s Galilee Advisory Committee heard from Michael Voccola, who was presenting the proposal on behalf of PC. Although the body is not required to approve the plan, it can recommend approval or denial of the company’s proposal to the Rhode Island State Properties Committee, which will have final say along with DEM on the lease amendment.

During his presentation to the group, Voccola said the hotel, which PC acquired in 2005, was no longer financially feasible to operate, stating the cost of operation had exceeded revenue. Voccola also added the Lighthouse Inn was now “functionally obsolete” in terms of its guest experiences, ADA compliance and energy consumption, and that PC had bought the building during a foreclosure.

“We basically purchased it in the courthouse,” he said. “It generally has not been proven to be a long-term, attractive place to stay. We’ve invested countless dollars into it, and we’re basically chasing issues there more than anything.”

Concern among committee members centered around the longevity of a parking lot at the site, as the group feared the parking lot could be permanent if PC does not find a suitable business for the site – a concern Voccola addressed early on in the meeting.

“We had met with members of DEM and discussed the opportunity of demolishing the hotel, rather than just simply closing it and boarding it, which is something we would not prefer to do, and operating it as a parking lot for the interim while we investigate development scenarios,” he said. “The question this summer was, ‘How long is it going to be a parking lot?’ I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t answer that,” Voccola said.

A handout from Voccola presented lengthy challenges accompanying development at the site, including the maximum lease term from the state for Galilee (40 years), the increasing annual rent, and the seasonal nature of the location.

“As you can readily see, development of the site is complicated, time consuming, expensive and seasonal,” the handout reads. “The roster of tenant types which can survive in such a market, absent any in the commercial fishing-related industry, is limited at best.”  

Voccola then presented a strategy for the site post-demolition, which would include quarterly updates to the town on the marketing the company was doing for the property, such as hiring a real estate broker to market the site.   

Advisory committee member Harvey Cataldo questioned why the group would want to demolish the building if it was trying to re-develop the property, and not just keep the property up to market to potential clients. Voccola said the company had been attempting that for the past several years, but the cost of operation had exceeded the hotel’s revenue, later adding the demolition of the building would help the potential for future investment at the site.

“My concern is, if you don’t find something viable to do here, in three years, you’re going to have another 20-year option on your lease, and we could be looking at a parking lot there forever and there’s nothing that you’re telling us that says that might not happen,” said Cataldo. “We don’t want a parking lot there, the town doesn’t want a parking lot there, it doesn’t do anything for this town.”

Cataldo added demolishing the building in favor of a dedicated parking lot would result in the loss of revenue for the town from the decrease in real estate property tax, further adding those who would use the parking lot would typically not spend any money in town, instead opting to just take the ferry. He said if PC could come up with a concrete proposal for a business at the site, he would be more willing to give his approval.

Voccola countered that the company was giving priority consideration to commercial fishing related businesses and expansions, although the site is located on the other side of the water. He then stated the people of Narragansett have little reason to go to Galilee.

“If there was an overall plan that the Town of Narragansett had in terms of developing this for year-round use, that’s a tool that I can use,” said Voccola. “But I know of no plan.”  

Narragansett Town Councilor Matthew Mannix, who serves as the council liaison to the board, said if the current building is demolished with no plan in place for a future structure, it would be difficult to construct another building on the property given its proximity to the water and the regulatory hurdles that come along with such a location.

Fellow councilor Jill Lawler said another, albeit upgraded, hotel should be built on the site. Voccola shot this down, saying the market did not exist for such a venture.  

Further testimony from the committee indicated the building would inevitably have to come down and there was indeed business opportunity for the site, specifically within the commercial fishing industry and emerging offshore wind energy industry. If leases on state-owned property in Galilee expire, they default to being dedicated to commercial fishing purposes.

Voccola said it would cost about $200,000 to demolish the building.

Ultimately, the Galilee Advisory Board continued the discussion to its November meeting.