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Old building gets a new life

September 11, 2013

PAWTUCKET — While its longtime use was as a jewelry manufacturing plant, the historic Geo. H. Fuller & Son Co. building at 145 Exchange St. can boast of “location, location, location.” As such, it’s no surprise that a husband and wife who specialize in seeing the value and potential of all things old have acquired the property and intend to give it a new purpose.

Providence residents Scott and Rae Davis, who own the Rhode Island Antiques Mall, 345 Fountain St., recently completed a purchase and sales agreement for the Fuller building. The long, narrow structure, clad in gray siding, sits directly on the Blackstone River, across from the equally historic Pawtucket Armory building and Tolman High School. More importantly, it is situated in the midst of an “arts and design” block that includes several other century-old mill buildings that have been successfully re-purposed.

Founded in 1858, the Geo. H. Fuller & Son Co. had produced jewelry findings, fine jewelry and carbon fixtures for soldering. In 2012, the company, later renamed Fuller Findings, was acquired by Findings Incorporated, a jewelry manufacturer in Attleboro, and the remaining equipment and workforce moved there.

Davis said that he and his wife aren’t exactly sure what the building’s new configuration will be, but it will likely reopen as all-residential space or a mix of residential and commercial in the “live/work” model. With the sale now finalized, Davis said the next phase is to hire an architect and other professionals to explore the zoning, building code, and design aspects of the property. He is also looking to see if the state’s historic tax credit program can be applied, which would require all of the units to be apartments for a minimum of five years.

“There will probably be some mix of condos and apartments. We’ll be doing studies to see what the best use would be,” said Davis. “A lot of work has to be done, but we hope it will be a crowning gem in that arts and design area.”

An industrial designer by profession, Davis is good friends with fellow Pawtucket-based designer Morris Nathanson. Morris and his wife, Phyllis, own the Design Exchange next door to the Fuller property, and the couple was touting the potential of the riverfront structure to the Davises.

Located in two adjoining brick mill buildings, the Design Exchange houses Nathanson’s headquarters as well as Fusion Design, LLB Architects, Small Pleasures florist, and other creative businesses. The Design Exchange is a prime example of how dormant and cavernous mill space can be renovated and revitalized to suit more modern purposes.

Davis noted how the shape of the Fuller building lends itself to an easy adaptation for another use. “It’s a fantastic structure because it doesn’t have all kinds of changes in elevation or crazy things to deal with. It’s a blank canvas,” he said. More importantly, because the former machine shop is 34 feet wide, every unit will go all the way through, front to back, guaranteeing river views.

Davis, who owns business properties in Taunton, Mass., and several other communities, said that the city of Pawtucket and its officials have been “marvelous” to work with. He cited the efforts of Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer Herb Weiss, who got the process rolling, to Mayor Donald Grebien, who left Davis an email offering support within seemingly minutes of hearing he was interested. When it comes to fostering development, “I don’t think there’s a better city in America,” stated Davis.

As neighboring property owners, Morris Nathanson said that he and his wife are “so delighted” that the Davises have purchased the building. “This was the last property in this area to be developed as part of the arts and design community,” said Nathanson. “Our building, Riverfront Lofts, the Armory, the Gamm Theatre, the display company on Fountain Street, Mad Dog...It makes this a fabulous design area,” said Nathanson.

Nathanson noted that there had been several setbacks to the vision he and others had for establishing a “creative center” in the neighborhood, including the loss several years ago of the JMW Arts High School as a tenant in the Armory building. “We are so pleased to have this complete our creative center here,” he said.
Davis said he would like to see the property developed “as soon as possible,” but noted it would realistically be a year-and-a-half to two years until final completion.

According to city real estate records, the 19,023-square-foot building was sold on Sept. 9 for $259,000. It had been assessed in fiscal year 2012 for $298,110.


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