|By Barbara Polichetti, The Providence
Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 21, 2009--WARWICK -- An ambitious plan to build a hotel, parking garage and complex of buildings that will combine office and retail space on Jefferson Boulevard received final approval from the city Wednesday night.
The proposal, which is the vision of contractor Michael D'Ambra, got the green light from the Planning Board after months of review by the city's Planning Department.
The $300-million project will not only create jobs and generate taxes, but represents a sizable gamble on the state's new intermodal station that is being built right next door to D'Ambra's 8.4 acres on Jefferson Boulevard.
"That's the reason I'm building this," D'Ambra said, referring to the combination train station, commuter parking garage and car rental center that is slated for completion next year. The most outstanding feature of the joint project by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and the state Department of Transportation is that it is all linked to the airport by a glass-enclosed skywalk that spans Post Road.
D'Ambra has permission to connect his complex to the intermodal station, prompting his lawyer, K. Joseph Shekarchi, to tell Planning Board members that "one of the best things about this project is that you'll be able to leave your office or hotel room and get in a car or [catch] a flight to Florida without ever having to carry an umbrella or put on an overcoat."
D'Ambra said he is already courting tenants and needs a few signed leases and more of a rebound in the economy before construction begins, but he is hopeful "that will happen by mid-2010."
The construction will be done in phases and the entire project will take three to four years to complete, D'Ambra said in an interview.
The project, which also involved D'Ambra relocating his asphalt and concrete plant that is currently on the Jefferson Boulevard property, has already won kudos from city officials.
He first publicly broached the idea last year when applying to the City Council for relief from setback requirements, height restrictions and other zoning stipulations. The council not only granted the requests but also praised the project for the energizing effect it will have on the local economy.
On Wednesday night, former U.S. senator and now gubernatorial candidate Lincoln D. Chafee -- who was a strong advocate for the intermodal station when he was Warwick's mayor -- showed up to congratulate D'Ambra. "This is what we wanted," he said. "The private development."
When Planning Board members had some questions because D'Ambra did not have a firm date for breaking ground, the construction company owner stressed his commitment to the project.
He said he has already purchased the land and acquired most of the permits needed to move his concrete and asphalt operation to Johnston, off Shun Pike.
"We are definitely committed to this project," he said. "We are not sitting on it until we have 50-percent occupancy or anything like that."
D'Ambra brought a team of architects and engineers to the meeting, as well as large color renderings of what the two main office buildings will look like. Designed by RGB of Providence, the buildings will have softly arched rooflines, walls of windows and perimeters of columned walkways.
Plans call for a hotel with more than 300 rooms, an 1,800-plus space parking garage and four buildings for office and retail use.
"This will be Warwick's new downtown," Shekarchi said.
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Copyright (c) 2009, The Providence Journal, R.I.
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