Upscale R.I. Development Takes Shape

By Richard C. Lewis, Globe Correspondent

Former Cranston reform school gets a new lease on life as $80m Chapel View mixed-use project

CRANSTON, R.I. — For more than a century, rough-and-tumble boys in trouble with the law were sent to a hilltop location in this city outside Providence. The youths were cloistered in a walled compound and forced to live in a structured environment that included doing chores, learning useful trades, and attending church.

The Sockanosset Boys School closed in the early 1990s, but with a panoramic view the property didn’t sit empty for long. Under construction is an upscale, mixed-use development called Chapel View. Half of the $80 million, 407,000-square-foot project will be retail and restaurant space, the other half split between office and residential uses.

Developer Carpionato Properties Inc. is creating a seven-building complex on 30 acres, due to be completed in the fall of 2007. The buildings essentially ring an inner area of about 250 parking spaces, with sidewalks, patios, and some greenery. “It’s not your typical shopping center,” said Mary McCarthy , a principal at Cubellis Associates Inc., an architectural firm that designed Chapel View.

Nevertheless, shopping and eating will be key components of the project. Plans call for nine restaurants in the complex, including national chains Johnny Rockets , Pei Wei Asian Diner, and Ted’s Montana Grill, and ice cream chain Cold Stone Creamery.

Commitments from retailers include the home furnishings store Bombay , Recreational Equipment Inc. or REI, and Omaha Steaks , said Kelly Coates , a senior vice president at Carpionato. A Shaw’s supermarket already is open and a former Shaw’s adjacent to the complex will become a Whole Foods Market as early as 2008, according to Coates.

There will be smaller, boutique-type stores as well. Lois Hollingsworth-Eagan , owner of the upscale women’s clothing store ZuZu’s Petals in Providence, said she decided to locate a second store in Chapel View after looking for three years.

She admitted she was reluctant about going into a “planned area,” but decided to sign a lease last spring after being convinced the area will attract customers seeking a different experience from a strip shopping center.

“I think it’s going to be a friendly area, a friendly walking area, a friendly shopping area. It’s going to be nice,” she said. Chapel View will tie in with the existing Garden City Center , a cluster of stores and eateries, and also connect to a 315,000-square-foot office complex anchored by Citizens Bank and its 1,700 employees. The project is expected to market to the roughly quarter-million residents who live within a 5-mile radius and whose average household income is about $66,000, according to the developers.

There will be 50 condominiums, ranging from about 700 to 3,000 square feet, priced from about $300,000 to roughly $1.5 million, Coates said. Some will offer views of the Providence skyline and the bridges spanning Narragansett Bay. Coates said his firm is marketing heavily to empty-nesters from the Cranston, East Greenwich, and Warwick areas who he believes want to downsize from single-family homes and are attracted to a setting where all their needs can be met within walking distance, yet without the intensity of city living. “You’re not worried about ever getting a parking space. You never have any security worries,” Coates said. “But you’re also not living in a nursing home.”

Coates said the main competitors for buyers will be high-rise residences being built in downtown Providence.

Alex Krieger , who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, jokingly calls the Chapel View concept “a halfway house for recovering suburbanites.” Still, he said, Carpionato is responding to what it senses is a niche market of people concerned about the dangers of living in a city but are “no longer satisfied with living in a cul-de-sac.”

“But the trouble today is our lifestyles require a larger net,” added Krieger, who is also a principal at Chan Krieger & Associates , a Cambridge architectural firm. “I don’t know if in the long term it will prove to be [that] Americans are moving back to these niche markets.”

The developers have agreed to keep some of the buildings from the boys school, including three stone dormitories and a gray granite chapel completed in 1891 that will be turned into a trattoria.

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