The Open Doors center former Sealtest Ice Cream Factory


Former factory would be home to ex-inmates

June 28, 2010, by Lynn Arditi | Providence Journal

Nearly $1.8 million in federal stimulus funds will be used to help transform a historic building that once housed the Sealtest Ice Cream Factory into affordable housing designed for former inmates who are returning to live in the community.

[...] The project’s developer is the local nonprofit OpenDoors (formerly know as the Family Life Center), which helps released prisoners. The organization plans to move its offices into the new building – which will include 19 single-unit apartments – and assist the tenants by providing counseling services, employment workshops and assisting with job searches.

“We have many buildings that are designed with very special social-service providers in mind – mental health, veterans, and so on,” said Richard Godfrey, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, which helped finance the project. “This is the only residential development put together with an agency that provides special services for formerly incarcerated people. This is a model that more and more states are turning to as a way to assure better success, reduce recidivism [and] provide meaningful employment for folks coming out of incarceration.”

A $2.2-million construction contract for the rehab work has been awarded to The Bailey Group of Warwick.

The idea for the project dates back five or six years to a National Governors Association conference, Godfrey said, when Governor Carcieri participated in a task force focused on helping prisoners reenter the community.

For the last two decades, the building that once housed an ice cream factory at 485 Plainfield St. has been vacant. The last of the tenants – a series of jewelry manufacturers – moved out around 1990. In late 2008, the vacant building (built between 1915 and 1918) landed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But securing the financing needed to rehab the building took time – and help from the federal government.

In the wake of the mortgage-lending slump, the U.S. Treasury has been trying to stimulate the construction industry by buying back federal tax credits that housing finance agencies have been unable to use because of tight lending markets. The $1.8 million for the OpenDoors project came from tax credits that the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. (aka Rhode Island Housing) sold back to the Treasury for about 85 cents for ever dollar, Godfrey said.

In addition to nearly $1.8 million from the federal tax-credit exchange program, the project is being paid for with a variety of state and federal funds, including $94,954 in deferred loan payments from Rhode Island Housing; $850,000 from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program; and a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Management.

Besides the capital funds, an additional $1,804,305 has been allocated to the project for consulting, services, and other work. That includes:

  • Neighborhood Opportunities Program (NOP) to support operations and finance services for residents: $1,077,250
  • LISC appraisal, historic consulting and development consulting: $15,000
  • Corporation for Supportive Housing for the initial purchase of the building and for environmental and historic consulting: $609,500
  • Rhode Island Housing’s pre-development loan for architectural, survey work and historic consulting: $102,555


From the ICDB, circa 2001-2002:

It is a two- and three-story, brick, pier-and-spandrel building with a flat roof located on the north side of Plainfield Street. The two most eastern bays of the structure stand three stories in height while the three western bays are two stories. The building’s primary entrance is offset in the western-most bay of the facade and is comprised of a metal-and-glass door set below a projecting metal hood and reached by a flight of concrete steps with a metal rail. The entrance is set within a round-arch opening with keystone that has since been bricked in. Fenestration consists of segmental-arch openings, the majority of which have been bricked in. Remaining windows feature replacement 1/1 sash; windows on the second floor of the two-story block’s facade are rectangular with fixed and sliding glass. The building is embellished with concrete stringcourses, projecting piers between each bay, and a corbelled cornice. An interior brick chimney rises from the western end of the structure. Attached to the rear of the building is a one-story, shed-roof addition. A chain link fence marks the property’s perimeter.

The building was constructed by Sam Dolbey ca. 1907 for the manufacture of ice cream. Between 1918 and 1926 the building more than tripled in size from 4,525 square feet to 13,675 square feet. Sam Dolbey Ice Cream Company continued to occupy the building through to ca. 1929 when the General Ice Cream Company took over. They ran a similar type of operation from this site. Later (around 1960) the National Dairy Products Sealtest Foods Division took over and ran its base of operations from the site (Woodward 1986).

The building was then vacated until 1967 when the United Pearl Company moved its base of operations there. The 1983 Sanborn map identifies the building as being used for the manufacture of jewelry, with the rear ell being used for lacquering and chemical storage. Until around 1990 the building was used as a site for a score of jewelry manufacturers. The building is currently being used by the Primitive Methodist Church.

john hollis Nov 14 2013 Sam Dolbey was my grandfather on my mothers side. Would like to have anything you can send. thank you.

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