Fri, 15 May 2009 20:00:09May 14, 2009
By Denise Perreault
PBN Staff Writer
NEWPORT – Thanks in large part to state and federal tax credits, the 1831 Aquidneck Mill once again is a functioning center of commerce along the waterfront, housing a visitors center and maritime library for the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS), as well as 10 private businesses, most related to the marine industry.
The IYRS on Thursday morning held an outdoor ceremony, attended by about 100 people, to formally cut the ribbon of the refurbished four-story mill on lower Thames Street. The nonprofit IYRS was in charge of the nearly two-year project to restore the mill, which had been vacant for many years and is located adjacent to the school.
“This is a story of historic preservation and economic development working in tandem,” Terry Nathan, president of the IYRS, told the gathering. With support from neighbors, the community and various funding groups, as well as the benefits of the tax credits, some 40 people now work at the mill, including IYRS employees Nathan said.
The mill, one of only two surviving in Newport, was built between the Revolutionary era and the Gilded Age, when the city “wasn’t sure what it was going to be” and officials thought the city might become a mill center similar to Fall River, according to Edward Sanderson, executive director of the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Sanderson and his organization oversaw the historic aspects of the project.
The mill cost about $40,000 to build in the 1830s, Sanderson said, with its granite quarried from nearby Jamestown. During the 19th century it produced cotton textiles, but by the early 20th century the building had become an electricity-generating plant that provided power to homes and street cars.
The nearly $4 million in combined state and federal historic preservation tax credits for the mill’s restoration are “what makes projects like this possible,” Sanderson said. “As Rhode Island struggles with its future, its past presents a pretty good example of what can be done. Good old buildings can be used for lots of things.”
With a largely brick exterior, the mill had all its windows replaced with “exact duplicates” of the original small-paned ones, Sanderson said. Inside, he noted, the mill is modern, with up-to-date facilities for the latest technology and energy efficiency. But, he said, “you can still tell it’s an old building.”
Most of the wide-planked wood floors are the originals, but some have been replaced due to deterioration caused in part by being so close to the ocean, according to John K. Grosvenor, principal of Newport Collaborative Architects, the architecture firm that worked on the project. White walls and white ceilings throughout provide a stark contrast to what look like hand-hewn wood floors, whether old or new. Window sills on the inside are deep and wide, a hallmark of 19th century mill structures.
“This space is wonderful,” said Harry Dunning of Dunning and Associates Yacht Design LLC, which moved its office from overseas in Spain to the Aquidneck Mill in January. Dunning, whose company does most of its work designing yachts for the America’s Cup races, has a corner office with windows overlooking the ocean on two sides, a clean, bright and airy space.
“It certainly is inspiring,” he said of the vista he can see from his desk. “Sometimes I need to lower the blinds because the sun is so strong, but I’m not complaining.”
“One of the best things” about Dunning’s new office, he said, are the people who work with him in the mill. “We have fantastic neighbors and great management,” he said.
Other businesses in the mill are: Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, Confident Captain/Ocean Pros, The Gowrie Group, Hilltop Motors LLC, Jamestown Distributors, Nautor’s Swan, Newport Yacht Management, Wild Things Inc. and Worldways Social Marketing. The nonprofit Rhode Island Foundation’s Newport County Fund also is housed there.
From an architect’s point of view, Grosvenor said, the challenge of renovating the mill was to keep the historic aspects intact while retrofitting the structure for modern use. The tax credits, he said, were “really critical” to getting the project done and are what made the project feasible.
“Otherwise, the mill would have continued to deteriorate,” he said.
Grosvenor said he hopes the General Assembly and state officials “can a find a way to reconfigure” the tax credits so they can stay in place. The Aquidneck Mill received credits of approximately $2.25 million from the state and $1.5 million from the federal government, according to Grosvenor’s calculations.
Due to the state’s budget troubles, the General Assembly last year reduced the tax credit reimbursement rate for existing projects from 27.75 percent to 22 percent, and limited the credits only to those projects submitted before Jan. 1, 2008, effectively ending the program.
Additional information about the Aquidneck Mill Building restoration and International Yacht Restoration School is available at IYRS.org.