By: Keith Pandolfi, Gillian Barth, Carole Braden, Amanda Keiser, Eric Hagerman, Sal Vaglica, and Danielle Blundell,
This Old House online
South Kingstown is a big town in a tiny state: The 57-square-mile community, just north of Atlantic inlet Point Judith Pond, comprises 14 villages, several with historical designation for exemplary architecture. South Kingstown's jewel, the Kingston Village Historic District, founded in the 1700s as Little Rest, earned National Register standing in 1974. The neighborhood is adjacent to the 14,000-student University of Rhode Island, giving its stately blocks a vibrant energy. A bike trail follows a defunct rail line from West Kingston beachward, passing former mill sites in the villages of Peace Dale and Wakefield, where artists and academics have been colonizing old millworkers' cottages and factory buildings. Add in good schools and shopping, and Newport or Providence within a 30-minute commute, and you've got a draw for all ages and professions.
The Houses Kingston Village Historic District is home to South Kingstown's oldest houses, ranging from Federal and other early-American styles up through the Victorian era's Queen Annes. Peace Dale's vernacular millworkers' cottages charm with their picket fences and cozy front porches, and retail-heavy Wakefield hides a pocket of late-19th-century styles, including Queen Annes, Capes, Colonial Revivals and vernaculars. Recently for sale was an 1891 three-bedroom Colonial Revival in Peace Dale for $185,000.
New plan finds much to praise in SK's villages
By Laura E. Kelly/Independent Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010
SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The future of two of the town’s historical mill villages is secure and bright, according to a state-funded study on Peace Dale and Wakefield that was released recently.
The “South Kingstown Village Study – Villages of Wakefield and Peace Dale” shows that efforts to protect the 200-year-old villages and to revitalize core areas are paying off. The study further asserts that the public’s perception of Peace Dale has changed, something that would have been hard to fathom just two decades ago when drugs were being sold openly in the streets and sidewalks and buildings were in disrepair.
“Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have gone down there,” said Leslie Chouinard, president of Peace Dale Neighborhood Revitalization Inc., about Peace Dale Flats. “There were several bars, there were drunks in the streets ... that has changed immensely.”
Aimed at protecting and enhancing the unique qualities of each village, the study recommends ways that the town can improve the infrastructure in the community. Peace Dale needs help with flooding issues and finding tenants for its vacant businesses. Wakefield, on the other hand, needs to improve its public parking situation and to help guide visitors to Main Street businesses. Both villages could benefit from better pedestrian access and making streets more pedestrian-friendly with plantings, period lighting, benches and bike racks, the study says. Buildings near the William C. O’Neill Bike Path, which runs through both villages, should improve their appeal by hiding Dumpsters and cleaning rear lots.
High Street, the main connector road between Wakefield and Peace Dale, is in need of “immediate improvements ... to sustain the functionality of the two villages,” the study notes. Even in minor rainstorms, large puddles and flooding make the road nearly impassable. South Kingstown Director of Planning Vincent Murray said that the street, a state-owned road, has been on the state’s list for study for more than 10 years. Efforts by town and state representatives to get the state Department of Transportation to improve the road have gone unanswered.
“The drainage problems are hindering community life,” Murray said. “Ultimately, we will need the state’s help. It’s a very large issue.”
Murray said that although there are areas that need to be improved upon, overall the study pointed out the positive aspects of the two villages. “I like the positive feel of the [study]. It talks about trying to build on what’s right,” he said. “The report itself is a positive view of our history and shows the importance of the villages in this town.”
The study will be discussed during a Town Council meeting on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall Council chambers, 180 High St., Wakefield. The next step for town officials is to examine some of the zoning issues discussed in the study and find funding to take care of the infrastructure problems.
The study, prepared by the Horsley Witten Group of Providence with a $25,000 grant from the state Department of Administration, also will be utilized to help rewrite the town’s comprehensive plan. It is available by logging on to www.horsleywitten.com/southkingstown. Residents of South Kingstown can help with future community planning by taking an online survey at www.horsleywitten.com/skingstown/survey.html.
The study also gives kudos to groups such as the Wakefield Merchants Association and Friends of Wakefield Village and grassroots efforts by the Peace Dale Neighborhood Revitalization Inc., which formed about 15 years ago, for sponsoring events such as shopping nights for women and holiday events.
Such groups also are trying to find ways to entice businesses to remain in the community.
At a meeting Tuesday of Peace Dale Neighborhood Revitalization Inc., concerns were raised about empty businesses in the village and the possible sale of Palisades Mill. “The mill is the linchpin to this village,” said Karen Zyons, secretary of the group’s board. “Filling those [buildings] up could be amazing.”
Such an investment in one’s community is what will ensure the survival of Peace Dale and Wakefield, according to the study.
Proof of this was found at Fournier Estates, a public housing community on High Street. For years the “projects” fed into the poor image of Peace Dale. Now with an active and educated tenants association, personal safety in that community is no longer a concern. “You can go there at midnight now,” Chouinard said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Jane Sherman, president of C.U.R.B. – Community Unity Renewal Board – the tenants association for all Housing Authority residences in South Kingstown, agrees that Peace Dale has changed for the better. Sherman has lived in Fournier Estates for 12 years, and when she first moved there she cried every night and believed her children weren’t safe. “When I first moved in there were parties and the police were there every night,” she said. “There is an unbelievable difference now.”
The association has helped families learn about the rules and responsibilities of living in a government-run community. Residents began to care about where they lived . As the social environment improved, so too did tenants’ self-esteem.
“I learned it was not just the way people think of us, but it was the way we thought other people thought about us,” Sherman said. “I had to learn that not everybody thinks bad of you for living in the projects.”
As residents built pride in their community, the physical environment also began to improve. Sherman said that residents now pick up litter, plant gardens and help their neighbors by shoveling snow. The association sponsors community events, such as an annual field day and a decorating contest on Halloween.
“Every resident is a member of the association and we are there if they need help,” Sherman said.
Eric Thunberg is strikingly relaxed for being a 26 year old with a $6.5 million mortgage. The new owner of the Palisades Mill Complex says he was excited, not nervous upon signing on the dotted line.
“It was harder during the due diligence period, double and triple checking the numbers and making sure I had considered everything” he said. “I was excited to finally sign the papers and know that I can act to put all my plans in place.”
Thunberg credits the Guariello family for being such good stewards of the mill. “If they had not kept the complex in such good shape I could never have taken it on” he said. Anthony Guariello, Jr. bought the mill in 1966 after it had stood idle for almost 20 years. Guariello ran a textile dyeing business called Palisades Industries, and from there the complex took its current name. According to Thunberg, the Palisades moniker will remain the same. “I think Palisades Mill is a great name and I want to honor the Guariello family, who took such great care of the property.”
Currently 33 percent of the space is leased to commercial operations. A previous potential buyer was interested in developing the complex into mixed use residential/retail/commercial space. Thunberg has no plans at this time to follow that model. He believes there is not enough large industrial/commercial space in town and that will remain his focus.
“My goal is to stabilize the property with rental income first and then the possibilities are endless” he said. He is flexible and years down the road if it seems like a mixed use occupancy will work he will consider it. “Right now I have a selfish reason not to be a residential landlord” he said, “that means tenants will be calling up in the middle of the night or on weekends because the toilet is running. Commercial and industrial occupancies are usually 9-5, Monday through Friday.”
Thunberg knows how it is to be a landlord, since he already owns a four-unit residential property on High St. in which he lives. He already knows how to be a business owner as well: just one year after he graduated from North Kingstown High School he founded the company E-Sports Entertainment, which developed software to help facilitate people playing video games to connect online and play against each other.
From that company came E-Sports Services, a consulting firm that works with large companies like Toyota and Intel as well as the US Army to help them learn how muli-player online gaming can help them reach their goals.
Although his father Bruce Thunberg tried to talk him out of the purchase of Palisades Mill, he really had no leg to stand on because he was the former owner of the mill at 10 High St. Eric's mother Virginia Brewer leased space at Palisades years ago for her own business, Rugged Wear.
“I grew up in both mills and that was my norm” said Thunberg, “ both my parents were their own bosses and I just thought that was how life was.” After his father knew he couldn't talk him out of it, the best advice he gave was to be fair with the tenants, especially the smaller tenants because they will become bigger tenants and also to provide a clean, well maintained building.
There is currently space available ranging from 300-46,000 sq ft. and Thunberg said he is hoping to reveal two big signings within the month. If you are interested, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 401-236-1388