Vitrus building showing signs of life

Vitrus building showing signs of life

The Vitrus building on Main Street, complete with new signage and historical photos, will soon be home to a new cafe, as owner Wayne Rosenberg continues its transformation into a jobs hub. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET – Wayne Rosenberg had grand plans for the old Vitrus building on Main Street when he purchased it for $1.2 million back in December of 2016.

The developer said at the time that he wanted his Creative Commerce Center to become a local driver for new jobs, but as is often the case with an old mill building, plans can prove easier said than completion.

Rosenberg, during a tour of the building this week, said he’s finally making some progress toward filling the building with tenants, including several that are bringing some life and activity to the facility.

A former Boston-based real estate developer, Rosenberg lives in the East Side of Providence and is focused solely on the redevelopment of the 52,000-square-foot Vitrus building, located at 881 Main St. He purchased the property from David Gold after 10 years of the facility being used mostly for warehousing.

Rosenberg will soon announce the addition of the Exit 26 Cafe, a venture of Jacqueline Vaughn and her Mumma’s lemonade, which got its start at Hope & Main of Warren. Vaughn is opening an eatery and ice cream parlor, complete with a kitchen, service window, and outdoor space. Rosenberg said he counted some 1,700 vehicles coming off the nearby highway in one hour, and expects to be able to capture many of those people with a planned selection of breakfast and lunch items.

Current tenants include the Nitro Cart, a specialty coffee company, Shiva Shakti Yoga Shala and the Free Love Clothing Boutique, and JJ Latin Dancers, among others. Rosenberg absorbed a significant hit with the loss of tenant Union Fence, though he got back all of the 100 or so parking spots at the property, located just up the road from the Hope Artiste Village. A gym also came and left.

Talks are ongoing to have a Rhode Island-based brewery take up a portion of the property next to the restaurant space, according to Rosenberg, and he said he’s hoping to see other spaces start filling up soon.

He said he’s given tours to all kinds of prospective tenants, including marijuana growers, but said city officials have indicated they don’t want marijuana grown here and he had no intention of going that route anyway. It’s very difficult, he said, to have a building with both marijuana and other uses, and developers typically must choose one avenue or the other.

Former owner David Gold had owned the Vitrus building since 2008. He purchased it after Tecumseh Products Company moved operations to India. Vitrus Inc. on Main Street was a subsidiary of Tecumseh. The building was originally home to the New England Lace Company.

For Rosenberg, it took months just to comprehend what he’d purchased.

“It took a while to understand the building,” he said.

He said he purchased it thinking that he would be able to repurpose much of what he found inside, but has instead found that most of its inner workings are too outdated to be of use.

Systems that were considered state-of-the-art in 1977 today are badly outdated, he said.

The engine of the building, an old boiler, took some time to restore but is now functional again.

As he’s learned to better use the heating systems, Rosenberg said he’s also gained some efficiency, but not before spending more than $5,000 in heating during one particularly cold winter month.

Rosenberg said he’s had some fairly large-scale failures in terms of trying to attract major tenants, failing to land the Providence Roller Derby for a large and mostly open space with a 15-inch slab for a floor. Removing the columns as needed would have been too prohibitive, he said, so his plan now is to turn them into live-work spaces. Windows overlooking Main Street, which are currently covered, will be opened and updated to brighten each unit.

Though Rosenberg doesn’t regret his decision to purchase the building yet, he said he might by the end of summer if he doesn’t see significant progress by then. The job of redeveloping the interior of the building has not gone nearly as easily as he imagined, with plenty of red tape to cut through at both the state and local level.

When he purchased the building in late 2016, Rosenberg said the Pawtucket facility is the “first really big property” he’s owned after 20 years in the New York and Boston real estate markets. In some ways he’s attempting to replicate the success of the Hope Artiste Village redevelopment up the road.

Rosenberg said he’s flexible on tenants and pricing, as he’s investing $10,000 each month into the facility.

According to Rosenberg, the Creative Commerce Center name, or CCC, was inspired by the Works Progress Administration-era Civilian Conservation Corps., a public relief program operated from 1933 to 1942 as part of the New Deal to help unemployed, unmarried men who couldn’t find jobs.

The Creative Commerce Center has numerous types of spaces, including several that are nearly ready for office spaces.

Rosenberg won a $2,000 arts grant through the city, which he used to enlarge old pictures of Pawtucket and install them on the exterior walls of the building. He said he hopes to do more beautification through additional grants in the future.

To inquire about a space at the Vitrus building, call 617-633-6082.

A yoga studio is one of the tenants at the Vitrus building.
Wayne Rosenberg talks about his vision for the Vitrus building on Main Street in Pawtucket.