- Special Sections
WOONSOCKET â€“ The first house he ever bought as a real estate investment was the one he grew up in on Cass Avenue.
Albert G. Beauparlant Jr. did a little work on the property and sold it to his brother, nearly 30 years ago.
It was an auspicious beginning.
The self-employed real estate developer and member of the Woonsocket Redevelopment Agency says heâ€™s been involved in hundreds of development projects since then, from the 1980s rehab of the landmark Longley Building on Main Street to the $6.2 million Conleyâ€™s Wharf in Providence.
â€śI always make money,â€ť he says, somehow not making it sound like a boast.
Back in the late 1980s, Beauparlant was a familiar face in the city, often playing cheerleader for the cityâ€™s long-struggling downtown. In 1988, he was a key organizer of 100th anniversary of the cityâ€™s founding.
Now, after a long absence, Beauparlant has once again become a conspicuously public figure, this time as co-chairperson of Mayor Leo T. Fontaineâ€™s one-night extravaganza to mark the city 125th anniversary, the Main Street Block Party. Billed as the biggest block party on the East Coast, the bash takes place Thursday.
When he accepted the volunteer assignment from Fontaine, Beauparlant says he knew it would be so time-consuming that heâ€™d have to sideline two projects heâ€™s working on in Providence for two months. After all, the centerpiece of the affair is a one-third mockup of Parisâ€™s Arc de Triomphe, a mini-construction project in itself.
As he juggled phone calls one day last week, stage-managing everything from the installation of festive sidewalk banners to donations of hanging flower baskets, Beauparlant clearly enjoyed being in the middle of it all, hectic as it was.
Heâ€™s often asked whatâ€™s in it for him.
The answer, surprisingly, is not much.
Beauparlant says this is his way of giving back to a city that has given much to him and his family over the years.
â€śNow with my talents, itâ€™s important to me to give back because this city is facing a time of great need,â€ť he says. â€śThis isnâ€™t just a block party weâ€™re having. This is an event that is really the kickoff of the resurgence of the city.â€ť
BORN IN Woonsocket, Beauparlant, 53, grew up in a family with eight brothers and sisters. His father was a machinist who worked at the Taft Pierce Company for many years, his mother, a homemaker.
The Beauparlants were strong Catholics who wanted their children to be educated in a religious tradition. The Beauparlant sibs all went to the now-defunct St. Annâ€™s School, but it wasnâ€™t always easy.
When the family hit a rough patch in the 1960s, he remembers his father going to see the priest in charge of St. Annâ€™s and trying to work out some arrangement for keeping all the kids in school.
During this period in his childhood, Beauparlant remembers neighbors and concerned friends rallying to help, too.
â€śIt was St. Annâ€™s that educated nine children in my family for almost nothing,â€ť he recalls. â€śWhat the city did for me, and the people who live here, did for my family during a very crucial time is something Iâ€™ll never forget.â€ť
Beauparlant later went to Woonsocket High School and graduated from the University of Rhode Island, but his first real job in Woonsocket had little to do with real estate. In the late 1970s, Beauparlant drove for Valley Cab for two years. They called him â€śTwo-Two,â€ť because he drove car No. 22, a big banana yellow job like the ones in New York.
Within a few years, he bought â€śthe old homesteadâ€ť from his father, a modest single-family home on Cass Avenue where he had grown up.
After renovating the house and selling it, he realized he could make a living in real estate, and heâ€™s been self-employed ever since.
Flipping a house is comparatively easy compared to what he does now, which is largely conceptual in nature. For example, some may recall that the developer of record for the Holiday Inn Express was Raymond Roy of Connecticut, who passed away in 2005. But before Roy had turned over a spade of earth, Beauparlant had already purchased the site where the hotel would be built â€“ the former Menard Chevrolet. In addition, he had obtained the permits needed to use the site specifically for hotel construction.
When he was done, he was able to sell Roy a ready-to-build, hassle-free package of land that was worth more than just a closed car dealership.
â€śYou sell an intellectual package,â€ť said Beauparlant. â€śThatâ€™s the most important part.â€ť
The last of Beauparlantâ€™s well-publicized development efforts in the city was an effort to bring a college here in the late 90s. He said he stopped working on the project when the cityâ€™s top officials at the time could no longer spare the resources to support the work.
Around 1998, Beauparlant moved his family to Providence, where he has been active in real estate development. About two years ago, he returned to the city and lives on Winter Street with his wife, Robin. They have three adult children, including Stephanie, 27, who works in public relations in New York and Ashley, 24, who wants to be a Spanish teacher. A son, Aarik, 21, works with him.
Though he says the block party wasnâ€™ t conceived as a vehicle to promote Fontaineâ€™s re-election campaign, Beauparlant makes no secret of his affiliations. He says he has known Fontaine since the mayor was in his early 20s and looks forward to working with the administration as a member of the newly reconstituted Woonsocket Redevelopment Agency.
If all goes according to plan, said Beauparlant, he will devote one full day per week as a volunteer for the Fontaine administration, helping to execute a â€śroadmapâ€ť for the economic rejuvenation of the city. The map, he says, will have several major avenues, including the resurrection of the college-development initiative he abandoned years ago.
Promoting details of the roadmap is not his prerogative, says Beauparlant, but in general he says his goal is to â€śbring value back to the city.â€ť The economy has been battered by recession, wholesale deflation of property values and huge tax increases to eliminate the resulting deficits. If Rhode Island lags behind the rest of the nation in catching a whiff of recovery, then Woonsocket is pulling up the rear in its own state.
One of the problems, he says, is that the city is too isolated, not just geographically, but psychologically.
â€śWe need to start thinking big and start thinking out of the box,â€ť he says. â€śWeâ€™re siloed. I want to break down those barriers.â€ť
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo