Joe sells one hotel, plans to build another
Joe Piscopio just sold the hotel that is the marquis for City Centre Warwick for $19.1 million. Now he plans to build another hotel behind it.
The Hilton Garden Inn and the adjacent Iron Works Tavern built on the site of the R.I. Malleable Iron Works on Jefferson Boulevard and Kilvert Street was the first major development in the intermodal zone that later was named City Centre. Construction of the hotel on a former industrial site was a lengthy process requiring the demolition and cleanup of the manufacturing facility.
Piscopio acquired an option to buy the former iron works manufacturer when connecting Green Airport and a Warwick train station was still a pipedream. At the time Piscopio estimated the building had sat dormant for at least 10 years before he bought it for $1 million. He spent three times that cleaning up the property.
Piscopio saved bricks from the building that were incorporated into the hotel and preserved the adjacent office building that he converted into the tavern.
From the outset, Piscopio and his partners talked about building more on the four-acre property. Plans were for a 110-unit apartment building that would become part of the vision of a “downtown” Warwick incorporating office, retail, hospitality and residential uses. The Hilton Garden Inn predated the airport Interlink and the station seen as the infrastructure needed to make Warwick a transportation center.
Piscopio bought the vacant manufacturing property in June of 1998. The late Don D’Amato, Warwick historian, described the iron works built by Thomas Jefferson Hill in 1867 as “the catalyst that brought the village of Hillsgrove into being.” Many of the mill houses that sprung up around the iron works and later the textile mill built alongside it that Hill named for his wife, Elizabeth, are still there today.
But the transformation from manufacturing to hospitality took years. Piscopio was patient and, above all, persistent. It took him seven years to clean the hotel site and then build the 160-room Hilton Garden Inn. It was another four years before he completed renovation of the former office building into the tavern, which is not part of the hotel sale to MCR Development LLC based in New York City and described on the company’s website as the seventh largest hotel owner operator in the country with a $2 billion portfolio of 94 premium-branded hotels with more than 11,200 rooms across 24 states and 67 cities.
Piscopio is not surprised that MCR was interested in the property. He said the Hilton Garden Inn sets the standard and never lacks for guests.
He now plans to build a 110-room Home 2 Suites by Hilton to the rear of the property. Piscopio said he not only has the zoning and the TSA (tax stabilization agreement) approvals for the project but also has acquired the Home 2 Suites franchise. Under the TSA, the property valuation for taxation purposes is frozen at the pre-construction assessment for five years.
Home 2 Suites is described as a mid-tier all-suite extended stay hotel and a competitor with Marriott TownePlace and InterContinental Hotels Group’s Candlewood Suites.
Piscopio doesn’t offer a construction timetable for Home 2 Suites and, in fact, is flirting with another development that could precede it. He calls this one “the vault.” The name is fitting for the three-story brick structure to the rear of the property on Kilvert Street. Apparently, the building was used as the core to the finances when the iron works was operational. Piscopio is thinking of converting the building into offices. He likes the thought of saving another piece of Hill’s manufacturing enterprise that was such a vibrant part of the city.
“You can always knock it down, but you can’t put it back up,” he says.
While transition has been slow even with completion of the Interlink and the rail station, Piscopio believes in the concept of City Centre. The 125-room Hyatt Place being built by Michael D’Ambra across Jefferson Boulevard from the Hilton is scheduled for a grand opening this month. That hotel, on the site of the former D’Ambra offices and asphalt plant, is the first element to a far larger plan for office buildings with some limited retail space.
Piscopio sees the zoning and tax incentives as setting the stage for more development and the City Centre former Mayor Scott Avedisian touted. However, he said it still needs that critical mass to become the place to build.
“City Centre is definitely going to take off once it has two or three more buildings,” he said.
It would seem Piscopio is doing all he can to make that happen.