PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino confirmed Monday he has purchased St. Joseph’s Hospital in South Providence and plans to convert it into a social service center that will also provide long-term housing to more than 300 homeless people.
Paolino, who declined to say how much he paid for the nine-story building at 21 Peace Street, said he plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to discuss more details. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza are scheduled to attend the announcement.
In a briefing with reporters Monday, Paolino said he will be the developer of the building, but indicated he does not plan to run to the day-to-day operations of the yet-to-be-named center. He said he intends to partner with the state’s existing social service agencies.
“A lot of this is hopes and dreams and goals,” Paolino said. “Nothing is concrete.”
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Providence tax records show the hospital was built in 1960. Its total assessed value was $41.6 million as of 2015. Paolino purchased it from Prospect CharterCARE.
In addition to long-term housing for approximately 312 individuals with separate floors for homeless families, architectural renderings Paolino showed include a police substation, a “food-based social venture,” space for job training and a group kitchen as well as a fitness center and space for short-term housing for the homeless.
Paolino said he is working with Providence-based KITE Architects on the project.
When asked if there is any plan to move the Crossroads homeless shelter to the former hospital, Paolino said “this is not taking the place of the Crossroads.” He said Crossroads’ existing facility in the YMCA building at 160 Broad Street will remain a shelter.
Paolino, a Democrat who served as the city’s mayor from 1985 until 1990, holds one of the city’s largest real estate portfolios, including the 350,000-square-foot high-rise office building at 100 Westminster Street, a Dorrance Street property he is currently converting to micro lofts and 444 Westminster Street, the former home Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island that he now leases to the city.
As chairman of the city’s Downtown Improvement District, Paolino has become a vocal advocate for tackling the homelessness and panhandling issues that have become a nuisance in downtown. Paolino has called on the city and social service agencies to work together to providing more housing and rehab programs to needy while also ramping up law enforcement against those who commit crimes in that area.
Paolino has clashed publicly with Elorza, who has advocated for a more compassionate approach to solving the challenges facing downtown. The mayor has called for “giving meters” to be installed so individuals can donate to a cause supporting the homeless. The city also recently awarded a contract to the House of Hope to open a day center.
Paolino declined to say whether the planned day center would be housed at the St. Joseph’s building. When asked if the purchase of a building in South Providence is simply a way of moving the homeless out of downtown, he said, “I would have bought it if it were downtown.”