The AS220 web site: www.as220.org/dreyfus/
The building has been renamed Conley Wharf after its owner, Pat Conley. Its first three levels are being subleased by PCIS (Partnership for Creative Industrial Space) and they are offering work only studio space for $6.00 a square foot per year. That’s about $250 a month for 500 square feet. Interested parties should contact PCIS at their website. Great views of the bay! The 4th floor will contain a conference center run by the Rhode Island Publication Society and a seafood restaurant run by Gail Conley, named Patrick’s Pier One. Paul Satas of Architectura was the architect and Ann Grasso of A.E. Grasso was the interior designer.
BY Cathleen F. Crowley
Providence Journal | May 1, 2005
Patrick T. Conley tramps through the mud toward a 754-foot wharf jutting into Providence Harbor. Splotches of bird droppings bleach the wood planks. Cold air blows off the water, though Conley wears only a suit and tie. He strides toward a metal shack halfway down the dock and sits inside, protected from the wind.
“This is where we have coffee and we strategize,” Conley said. Conley has big plans. He envisions cruise ships and ferries pulling up to his wharf. He dreams of a 400-boat marina to the north of the pier and, on the water’s edge, a multi-story hotel and condominium complex rising into the sky. He pictures a colony of artists selling their goods to tourists and sees the Sloop Providence and the Russian submarine tied to his dock. Visitors can shop, dine and enjoy the city’s maritime history here at “Providence Piers.”
Conley has never built something this big. He’s developing a $35-million housing project in Smithfield and has completed a handful of $3-million apartment buildings, but the price tag for Providence Piers is closer to $300 million. He said he is talking with investors and potential partners, but no agreements have been made yet. No city boards have reviewed – never mind approved – the project.
Conley wants the waterfront development to be his legacy to Providence and South Providence, his hometown and boyhood neighborhood. He is better known for buying properties at tax sales and selling them at a profit, a practice that has not endeared him to some people. That is Pat Conley, love him or hate him.
Conley’s property sits between Sprague Electric and ProMet Marine Services, where Public Street intersects Allens Avenue. He paid $2.3 million for nine acres that once housed the Providence Gas Co. He has already demolished three massive oil tanks and dismantled the pipes that carried the oil.
He also bought the City Tire building next door for $106,000 at a tax sale. The four-story, barrel-roofed building served as a warehouse in the 1910s when the wharf on ProMet’s property was known as State Pier No. 1. More than 18,000 immigrants disembarked at Pier No. 1 in 1915, making the city the fifth-largest immigrant landing, according to Conley’s historical research.
Conley has poured $3 million into rehabilitating the building, which he named Conley’s Wharf at State Pier No. 1. He has already leased the first three floors to an artists’ group, which will sublet the space for art studios under a five-year agreement. He believes the artists will bring vitality to the area.
Conley wanted to devote the top floor of the building to a conference center where all the organizations that he is involved with could meet, but his wife and business partner, Gail, wanted a restaurant. “She said the entire top floor for a conference center is even too big for your ego,” Conley said, with his wife at his side. They compromised. The conference room will take the half that overlooks the water, and the restaurant will sit above Allens Avenue.
Conley is a lawyer, real estate investor, historian and author. He served as chief of staff to former Mayor Cianci in 1979. He taught history and constitutional law at Providence College. He earned a doctorate in history and a place in Who’s Who in America. He also earned a reputation.
His critics, who include Dennis Langley of the Urban League, say he has contributed to blight in South Providence. In 1979, Conley began buying up tax titles at municipal tax sales. He paid the delinquent taxes and property owners had a year to repay Conley or sell the property to avoid foreclosure.
Conley estimates that he has bought 8,000 tax titles in Providence. About 5,700 were redeemed by the property owners, and he took ownership of the remaining 2,300 when owners didn’t pay their debt, Conley said. Most of the properties were vacant lots or dilapidated buildings, he said.
“Only one owner-occupant was ever dislocated by me from a tax title problem,” he said. The owner refused to communicate with him, he said.
If the buildings had tenants, he said, he let them stay as long as they paid their rent. Conley says his tax title purchases revitalized neighborhoods, because he cleared the tax liens, making them more attractive to buyers.
“The city itself was doing nothing other than holding them,” he said. “They were much better off in my hands, sitting there ready to be sold.” But some didn’t sell for years and became neighborhood eyesores, said Langley.
“The lots he has purchased are not cleaned up,” Langley said. Langley acknowledged that the tax sale process is perfectly legal but added, “It is unconscionable for something of this nature to be legal.”
Carla DeStefano, executive director of SWAP (Stop Wasting Abandoned Property) has purchased more than 25 properties from Conley and converted them into affordable housing. Throughout their negotiations, DeStefano said Conley has been fair.
Though he has not appeared before the city zoning board or the City Plan Commission, Conley has discussed his project with city officials, including City Planner Thomas E. Deller. Conley’s proposal fits in with the city’s vision for the area, Deller said.
“The plan seems headed in the right direction,” Deller said. “We want people to be able to go out there and enjoy the water.”
Deller suggested that Conley build higher. Conley had originally proposed a 130-room hotel on the waterfront. After he spoke with Deller, Conley’s architect redrew the development with a 320-unit hotel and a train line running along Allens Avenue. Deller wants the area to be dense enough to support a train trolley.
Meanwhile, Conley is busy recruiting attractions for the project. He has convinced the nonprofit organization that operates the Sloop Providence, a replica of the Revolutionary War schooner dedicated to educational programs, to dock at his wharf.
He is also in discussions with the organization that operates as a museum the former Russian submarine now docked at nearby Collier Point. Conley asked RIPTA officials to launch their Providence ferry to Newport from the wharf, which has a 27-foot draft at low tide. Karen Mensel, a RIPTA spokeswoman, said RIPTA officials are interested in moving to Conley’s property. The wharf appeals to the transportation agency because it shortens the trip to Newport, has more parking, and bypasses the hurricane barrier, through which navigation is difficult. [...]
A large, four-story, long, three-bay-wide, brick building set on the east side of Allens Avenue. The building is notable for its rounded roof and large, paired and tripled, rectangular, multi-light, fixed and awning sash windows which fill each bay. The first floor of the building’s facade has been covered in tile, probably dating to the 1920s or 1930s. A tall, four-story, flat-roof elevator shaft projects from the north elevation of the building. A one-story, concrete block ell with a single vehicular entrance projects from the eastern end of the north elevation. Signage on the building included “Dunlop Tire Safety Specialists,” “BF Goodrich, ”Michelin,“ and “City Tire Co.” Attached to its south side is a two-story, flat-roof ell with large, single-light, fixed sash on its first floor. This block was added sometime after 1937. Attached to the two-story ell is a one-story, flat-roof block with rows of vehicular entrances along its south elevation. At the east end of the four-story block is a large, one-story, flat-roof, brick ell which replaced an earlier wood-frame block shown on the 1918 map. This brick ell was constructed between 1918 and 1926.
A one-story, flat-roof, concrete block garage stands to the rear of the building on a separate lot. This structure was built by the Providence Gas Company around 1915. The 1918 map identifies the structure as a Purifying House. The Imperial Warehouse Company occupied the building in the early 1920s. Historic maps note that the building was used for storage, shipping and receiving. By the late 1920s, Providence Teaming Company is identified as the building’s occupant. According to city directories, Providence Teaming was incorporated in 1921 and had offices on Dyer Street before locating to Allens Avenue. The company used the building as a site for their teaming and trucking company under its president John A. Woodward. It’s principal use was to store cargo brought to the State Pier, especially by the Fabre Steamship lines.
The building was left vacant in 1937. The City Tire Company began occupying the building around 1942. They utilized it as a site for the distribution of tires and were occupants of the building until 2001.
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