Commerce Corp. attaches strings to $3.6M tax break for Hope Artiste Village

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Commerce Corporation said Monday it will require the developer of the Hope Artiste Village complex in Pawtucket to accept the oversight of independent mediators in order to receive $3.6 million in tax credits for an expansion.

Urban Smart Growth LLC received board approval in September 2016 for the Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits to help pay for a $38.9-million third phase of its Hope Artiste project. The company plans to add 149 loft-style apartments to the complex, the former Hope Webbing Company mill.

The Commerce Corporation’s decision was first reported by GoLocalProv, which had earlier raised questions about Urban Smart Growth founder Lance Robbins’ controversial projects in other states, notably California. Commerce spokesman Matt Sheaff said the agency’s review had confirmed some of those complaints.

“Usually when a tenant has issues, their only real remedy is to go to the landlord directly or take him to court, so what we put in and negotiated for is a tenant-liaison position,” Sheaff said. Tenants with complaints will be able to take them to the mediators rather than taking court action, he said.

The mediators will be Jennifer Cervenka, a Providence attorney; retired R.I. Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr.; and Lisa Holley, the Rhode Island State Police’s former legal counsel. Final details about the financial arrangement are still being negotiated, he said.

House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a Republican candidate for governor, questioned the proposal on Twitter. “Does anyone else doubt that that monitoring will be rigorous?” she wrote. “Should he be getting tax $ at all? What permanent, full time jobs are going to be created?”

An economic-impact analysis of the Hope Artiste expansion, commissioned by the Commerce Corporation from consulting firm Appleseed, estimated the project once completed would directly and indirectly create 19 full-time jobs, including five to 10 workers who will manage or maintain the residential units.

Rebuild Rhode Island is by far the largest of the new economic-development programs the Raimondo administration created in 2015. It allows developers to receive tax credits for a project over five years after an occupancy certificate is issued.

The General Assembly has capped the maximum amount of Rebuild tax credits that can be authorized at $150 million. As of last week, nearly $84 million in credits had been authorized by the Commerce Corporation board.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook