March 5, 2014

Renaissance's financing plan remains a mystery

City officials quietly wonder if the downtown project is dead.
The Long Island-based Renaissance Downtowns was supposed to submit a financing plan for the first phase of its Depot Square project early this month, early enough to allow the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. to review it next Monday.
First phase rendering
But the BDDC, with no plan to review, has cancelled its Monday meeting.
The agreement between the city and the developer provides that it must purchase the first lot, a 4.7-acre parcel along Main Street, by May 26. There is no provision for a delay, though the city could perhaps allow one if officials saw room for hope.
Ryan Porter, the project manager for Renaissance, said recently the company aimed to have a financing plan ready this month. He's still working on it.
The initial phase of the project calls for two large rental housing buildings, one of them facing Main Street with restaurants and shops on the first floor. In back, it would have a large public piazza.
Also included in the $40 million initial phase is a site for a future boutique hotel, but it's already on hold.
City officials say they won't talk on the record about the project because they don't want to undermine Renaissance's efforts to arrange financing. They said pouring cold water on it at this point would help noone.
Renaissance isn't throwing in the towel yet. It continues to push Bristol Rising, a grass-roots group it created to spur community interest in the project and the revival of downtown.
The developer is also in the process of getting permission to carve up the former mall site into three separate parcels, one of which is the area eyed for phase one. Without the formal property split, the city can't sell that piece come May.
If Renaissance can't arrange for financing that meets with city approval, which is increasingly likely, it's not clear what will happen with the 15 empty acres the city has owned since 2005, when it bought a decrepit mall and knocked it down in a bid to create a "live, work, play" urban neighborhood that officials hoped would bring back the traditional city center atmosphere.
It appears that if Renaissance's plan fails, the city would essentially return to go, with no preferred developer and no plan.
It's not the outcome city leaders want to see.
So they're crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. They're rooting for Porter to find the money Renaissance needs so that its plan, already approved, can move ahead instead of collecting dust.
The full-scale Depot Square plan, which isn't finished and hasn't been scrutinized in detail, calls for almost $300 million in new construction that would include more housing, offices, retail and restaurants. If it ever happens, it would transform Bristol.
And if it never happens, what then? Nobody knows.

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