Joe Brito signs agreement to buy Bristol industrial park

Part of the sprawling downtown complex would become senior housing

By Scott Pickering
Posted 12/4/19

A majority of the assets in the downtown Bristol Industrial Park may be changing hands, as well-known Bristol resident, businessman and property owner Joseph Brito Jr. has signed an agreement to …

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Joe Brito signs agreement to buy Bristol industrial park

Part of the sprawling downtown complex would become senior housing


A majority of the assets in the downtown Bristol Industrial Park may be changing hands, as well-known Bristol resident, businessman and property owner Joseph Brito Jr. has signed an agreement to purchase the complex out of receivership. Mr. Brito has pledged $750,000 to purchase three separate buildings, comprising more than 230,000 square feet of industrial and commercial space at 500 Wood St.

An actual sale is still months away, contingent upon several stipulations. First, the current owners of the property, Mosaico Business & Community Development Corporation, must complete an environmental remediation project that is already underway. In 2016, Mosaico received a $453,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to remove contaminated soils, install new drainage and groundwater systems, and cap areas of the complex with a fresh coat of asphalt. Depending on weather conditions through the winter, that work may extend until the spring.

In addition, Mr. Brito’s offer is contingent upon receiving two approvals from the Town of Bristol. He will be seeking a zoning change for one of the buildings, known as “Building 3.” Located at the northeast corner of the complex, this is the largest of the buildings, at nearly 122,000 square feet. Mr. Brito would like to rehabilitate this sprawling building, some of which dates back to 1880, to be used for assisted living or senior housing. The Bristol Town Council would need to authorize a zoning change from industrial/commercial to residential.

This building is also located a stone’s throw from the town’s largest senior housing complex, the Franklin Court complex of assisted and independent living, which is owned and managed by the East Bay Community Development Corp.

Seeking tax relief

Mr. Brito is expected to ask the Town of Bristol for several forms of tax relief. Specifically mentioned in the purchase-and-sale agreement are: a) Adjusting the assessed value of the property to the purchase price of $750,000; b) Phasing in any assessed value and taxes for improvements to the property over a period of time (typically five to 10 years); and c) Freezing the assessed value of the residential portion of the property (the new senior housing complex) until there is a certificate of occupancy for the facility.

In addition to these tax benefits, Mr. Brito might be able to take advantage of new investment incentives available through the Rhode Island “Opportunity Zone” program. The industrial complex sits within an identified Opportunity Zone in Bristol, which means an investor can reduce their capital gains taxes if they hold onto the investment property for at least five years; they can be permanently excluded from capital gains taxes if they hold the property for at least 10 years.

The property is currently under the control of Richard Land, a court-appointed receiver from the law firm Chace Ruttenberg & Freedman in Providence. Mr. Land assumed management of the complex last spring, after Mosaico (which bought the property in 2010, also out of receivership) failed in its obligations to pay back notes. Its efforts stalled when the Rhode Island fire marshal forced it to close part of the complex and remove tenants located in buildings that do not have an approved fire suppression system. The loss of rental income was a fatal blow for the nonprofit’s efforts to rehabilitate the historic complex.

Mr. Land began marketing the property for sale last spring and received serious interest from 10 potential buyers. However, he said Mr. Brito was the only one to make a formal purchase offer, including a 10 percent ($75,000) deposit.

On Monday, Mr. Land received Rhode Island Superior Court approval to enter into the agreement with Mr. Brito. Contacted by phone Tuesday, Mr. Brito said they are still in the very early stages of this project and he was reluctant to say too much about his plans. He did confirm that plans call for the one building to be converted into senior housing, and he indicated that he is not considering any affordable housing at the complex.

“We don’t want to have any effect on the schools,” he said.

Asked about his overall intentions, he said, “Our family has a history of taking properties that are a blight and being able to turn them around.”

The area of the complex that would transfer to Mr. Brito includes nearly a dozen current tenants. They are Black Duck Marine, Bristol Excavating, Bristol Painting, G&D Excavating, Joe Alves Landscaping, Luther’s Welding, Newport Nautical, Peace Co., Soda Factory, Steel Maintenance and Thomas Mack.

Mr. Brito said he intends to continue the mission of creating code-compliant, rehabilitated industrial and commercial spaces.

A rich history in Bristol

The industrial park was once home to the National Rubber Company, launched in 1865 at that site. It later passed to one of the wealthiest individuals in the history of Bristol, Samuel Pomeroy Colt, who transformed it into the National India Rubber Company, which ultimately became the largest rubber conglomerate in America.

In 1931, shoe manufacturing ceased at the facility and it became U.S. Rubber Company’s main cable and wire division. At its peak in World War II, the rubber factory employed about 6,000 people in the manufacture of rubber-insulated cable and wiring. At the time, Bristol had a population of 12,000 people.

The property passed to Kaiser Aluminum in 1957, which employed hundreds of Bristol residents for many years, before ceasing operations. The entire complex was purchased by developer Lyle Fain in the 1980s, and Mr. Fain held onto it until Mosaico acquired it out of receivership in 2010.

At the time the property passed into receivership last spring, there were two note-holders and four notes on the property. The Town of Bristol held two notes, one for $274,000 (for Mr. Fain’s unpaid taxes prior to the 2009 receivership) and one for $225,000 in program income (which is a revolving Community Development Block Grant loan program). Bristol Funding LLC, the former owner, held two notes, one for $700,000 and one for $850,000. No principal or interest on any of the four notes had been paid at the time Mosaico lost control of the property.

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