Over the past year, Johnston's Town Hall Plaza was vacated and gutted.
While construction seems to have slowed at the site, a nationwide retailer may be considering the empty strip mall for its newest Ocean State location. (At very least, a company spokesman confirms the company’s looking for a spot in town.)
The prime piece of real estate along Atwood Avenue, next to Johnston Town Hall, has been home base to a long list of businesses and organizations.
Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr. announced his bid for mayor in the now-empty strip mall, which temporarily housed the Democratic Town Committee’s headquarters. Polisena also celebrated his mayoral election victory in the building, before its dismantling soon after.
“Two things I hate are strip malls and vacant buildings and I think the residents of Johnston agree with that as well,” Polisena said via email earlier this week.
In July, Polisena weighed in on the project, which form nearly a year has lingered, quiet but strewn with debris, behind a tall chain-link fence, next to the heart of Johnston’s government operations.
“Regarding the property next to Johnston Town Hall, I don’t have a timeline but I believe it will be a plaza with a combination of restaurant and retail,” Polisena said. “Almost any change is better than the way the property previously looked.”
One of the brothers associated with the Grieco Auto Group car dealerships on Hartford Avenue, Michael Grieco Jr. (with 266 Putnam Ave, LLC), has a controlling interest in the Town Hall Plaza project.
In July, Hillary Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Grieco, released a possible rendering for the project. She confirmed that the strip mall’s past tenants — Supreme Gym & Café, a convenience store and the Democratic Town Committee — would not be returning.
“Plans for 266 Putnam Ave, LLC’s new Town Hall Plaza, located at 1505 Atwood Ave. in Johnston, include a drive-through and five units total,” Reynolds said in July. “The building is being fully renovated with all new HVACs and bathrooms, and the parking lot will be paved with landscaping. Completion is anticipated by April 2024.”
The property has been fenced off since late last winter.
“Regarding the Town Hall Plaza project, Michael Grieco Jr. is involved and there will be all new tenants,” Reynolds confirmed.
Michael Grieco’s also leading a second strip mall project in neighboring North Providence along Mineral Spring Avenue.
“In addition, the recently opened project at 1599-1601 Mineral Ave. (owned by 1601 Mineral Spring Ave LLC) in North Providence includes two buildings,” Reynolds explained. “Chipotle and AT&T occupy the first building, with Starbucks and Five Guys occupying the second building. One unit remains to be leased in the second building.”
While the future occupants of Town Hall Plaza have not been finalized, a source connected to construction at the site confirmed that owners were in talks with national chain Harbor Freight Tools as a possible tenant.
According to the company’s website history, their “journey began in 1977, when Eric Smidt and his father launched Harbor Freight Tools.” More than four decades later, the family-owned business now owns and operates more than 1,400 stores.
Harbor Freight confirmed they are looking for a spot in town.
“While I can confirm that we are interested and actively looking to open a Harbor Freight Tools store in Johnston, it is still early in the process so there is nothing else I can confirm,” according to Communications Director for Harbor Freight Tools Craig Hoffman.
When asked directly if the company was considering Town Hall Plaza as its possible Johnston location, Hoffman said, “I can’t ... yet. But please keep in touch.”
Reynolds and Grieco did not return requests for comment by press-time.
Polisena said he has no direct knowledge of negotiations over Town Hall Plaza’s future, but he’ll surely be watching from his office window.
“I haven’t had any discussions with anyone from Harbor Freight, but I would welcome them to town in the appropriate location,” Polisena said. “We have many people in the trades in Johnston and I think more retail competition in any space only benefits the consumer.”