BURRILLVILLE — Ten years ago, downtown Pascoag was officially designated by the town as a "redevelopment district," an area long considered blighted and substandard and in need of serious revitalization.
If you've driven through lately, you may have noticed some big changes in the downtown area, which has undergone a sort of Renaissance — especially over the past several months.
Town Council President Nancy F. Binns says all of these new improvements and facilities are "encouraging signs of belief in the potential viabilities of a rehabilitated and vibrant neighborhood within Burrillville."
The first phase of a new streetscape is almost finished in the area of the Bridgeway and the lower end of Sayles Avenue, Binns reported.
"Drainage problems are being corrected, resurfacing and new sidewalks installed, as well as stamped concrete crosswalks," Binns said in a recent report to townspeople.
She said a new addition to the WellOne medical/dental facility is substantially finished and will provide much-needed additional space for treatment of the rapidly expanding need for good, affordable local health care.
"The community is fortunate to have access locally to one-stop health care services," Binns said.
Further resurfacing work is planned on Main Street (a state road) in two additional phases, beginning next spring, and the town's Redevelopment Agency continues to assess and consider plans for the commercial rehabilitation of the downtown area.
In addition, Binns said, a brand new CVS pharmacy is now open for business and the former building is being demolished. She said a new regrading and resurfacing of that area will follow, with expected increase in parking and better traffic sight lines.
"The architecture of the new building complements architectural details of some of the other commercial structures on Pascoag's Main Street," said Binns.
A little further up Church Street from the new CVS is the newly enlarged and renovated Pascoag Public Library with its enlarged parking area for patrons. The addition was recently dedicated in honor of Helen Fairbrother Moroney for her many years of effort and support as a member of its all-female Board of Directors.
Town Manager Michael C. Wood said the town's economic development focus has shifted to Pascoag, adding that the challenges in Pascoag are much different and in many respects more difficult than those the town had to address for the Stillwater Mill rehabilitation project in Harrisville.
"The blighted physical condition of many of the buildings and structures owned by many different local residents and absentee landlords makes the ability to focus or target defined objectives very challenging," Wood said. "Onerous fire code laws and other building code requirements make it very difficult financially for property owners to undertake physical improvements on their own."
Wood said in addition to the work to improve town-owned roads and infrastructure on Sayles Avenue in downtown Pascoag, the Redevelop-ment Agency is stepping up its activity to address the blighted properties and buildings.
"The state will be doing additional road improvements on Route 107 and Pascoag Main Street as early as next spring," he said. "State projects have a different and more complicated process to follow, so that might be optimistic, but that's what we've been told to date. CVS has built its new facility and a number of our local owners are improving their properties."
Wood added: "We are making slow, but steady progress and we thank the Pascoag property owners and businesses for their support and patience. It looks like downtown Pascoag will have to be rebuilt brick by brick."
Redevelopment Agency Chairman James A. Langlois says the project to rebuild lower Sayles Avenue will feature new sidewalks, a new RIPTA bus stop and a pedestrian bridge over the Pascoag River.
"Combined with the River Walk, restoration of the 96 Main Street building, removal of a vacant warehouse on Park Place, and future plans for improvements to Main Street, the area is moving forward," he said. "This combination of private and public investments will lead to a bright future for this business district."
The Redevelopment Agency's efforts to fill vacant storefronts and redevelop vacant lots has been met with great success over the past 10 years.
The historic New York Department Store, once a cornerstone of Fountain Square, is an example of that success. The building on High Street was deemed unsuitable for rehabilitation and a proposal to demolish the building and construct a new Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor was made, and nearly brought to fruition. But in 2004, the project was abandoned. Instead, the owner of the property on the opposite corner, Mark Murphy, acquired the property and constructed the building as proposed.
The new tenants include NorthWest Health Center, Pascoag Chiropractic, Logee Insurance Co. and Hershey ice cream parlor. There are four apartments above, which were also part of the original plans.
In 2006, town officials officially opened the half-mile riverwalk along the Clear River in downtown Pascoag. The riverwalk is one phase of a multi-phase pedestrian trail system that will improve active recreation opportunities within the town's village centers and ultimately link the villages together.
In 2001, the town acquired ownership of the historic laundromat building at 96 Main St. to save it from being demolished. At high flow, the Pascoag River came in the basement over the stone slab foundation and damaged the supports. Through the use of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), a Neighborhood Opportunity Program grant from the RI Housing Resources Commission, and town funds, the building was stabilized by raising it up, and a new concrete foundation and first floor were built. A new roof and temporary first floor facade were put on and a new deck was added to the side to overlook the Pascoag River while the building was prepared for resale.
The 2,284-square-foot building was sold last fall to Royal Laurent, a town resident since 1997 who has owned and operated Clear River Technical Services since 1993. Laurant took over the renovations.