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Developers have proposal for Fidas
Fidas is a drag on business for the Rising Sun Mills down the block, developer Ethan Colaiace tells the city Board of Licenses.
PROVIDENCE -- The development team that is pouring $100 million into the refurbishment of a shabby stretch of Valley Street has offered to buy Fidas diner. If the brothers who own the diner won't agree to sell for a reasonable price, the developers would pay to improve the outside of the diner at no cost to the brothers -- if the name is changed.
Fidas, which some neighbors call a nuisance, has never been out of the news for long since January 2000, when police Officer Cornel Young Jr. mistakenly was shot to death by another officer in the diner's parking lot.
For that reason and others, Fidas is a drag on business for the Rising Sun Mills down the block, developer Ethan Colaiace told the city Board of Licenses on Friday.
The renovation of the sprawling Rising Sun Mills for a residential, office, and retail complex is the centerpiece of the Valley Street refurbishment by the development team of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Armory Revival Co.
Fidas is notorious because of Young's killing, said B.J. Dupre, a partner in Armory Revival Co., of Providence.
"When people drive by they say, 'Oh, yeah, Fidas restaurant,' " and they think of the police officer's death, Dupre said. "It makes them very anxious… It's a big negative for leasing at Rising Sun."
The disclosure of the developers' offers was made as Fidas, a fixture in the Valley neighborhood for decades, defended itself at a public hearing held by the Board of Licenses. The Police Department charged that Fidas stayed open beyond its legal operating hours last Dec. 20.
If the owners of Fidas play their cards right, Colaiace said at the hearing, they would find plenty of customers among the office workers and residents at Rising Sun Mills.
Co-owner Arthur Fidas did not say during the hearing what he thought of the developers' propositions. Afterward, when a reporter sought to talk to him about the propositions and the diner's reputation, his lawyer, Stephen Peterson, said there would be no comment.
Colaiace told the board that some potential tenants for the 115,000 square feet of commercial space available at Rising Sun Mills, at 166 Valley St., have been put off by the proximity of Fidas, at 270 Valley St. The majority of the commercial space has been leased to Abaqus, a software engineering company.
"We get tenants who say, 'We would really like to locate here, but I'm afraid of Fidas,' " said Colaiace, deputy development director of Struever Bros., a Baltimore company. He said the main problem is Fidas' reputation because of the police officer's violent death, but that Fidas' continuing presence at penalty hearings is a problem, too.
Another man died after being shot in the diner parking lot in September 2002.
After that shooting, the board stripped Fidas of its license that allowed the diner to be open between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Until then, according to Peterson, Fidas had been open 24 hours a day for more than 30 years.
Fidas's co-owners said they were being blamed unfairly for gang violence. Residents testified that the overnight crowd brought crime, noise and litter to their neighborhood.
Fidas applied for reinstatement of its all-night license but withdrew the application without explanation last Dec. 17, just before a hearing.
After Friday's hearing, Dupre said Arthur Fidas has been asking for too much money for a buyout to be consummated.
"He's put a very high price tag on the restaurant, to the point where it doesn't work financially for us," Dupre said.
So the developers have been negotiating with Fidas, offering to improve the outside for free, to make the business look "more welcoming," according to Colaiace and Dupre. They would collaborate with Fidas on the new look, Dupre said.
"As the street changes, there is plenty of business to be done," Dupre said. "He doesn't have to go after the late-night, drunken crowd."
As for the police complaint, Assistant City Solicitor Caroline Cornwell, lawyer Peterson and witnesses fenced about whether the diner was open for business after 2 a.m., the required closing time, on Dec. 20.
Board chairman Andrew Annaldo said a decision on whether to uphold the complaint and penalize the diner would be made later.
Two neighbors testified that they have seen people that they believed to be customers arrive and leave with takeout food well after 2 a.m., although they had no specific information about Dec. 20.
One of the neighbors, Adam Karabachi, of 250 Valley St., said Fidas patrons still plague him although the all-night license was taken away. They urinate on his property and drop litter, he complained.
"We have a rat problem because of this," Karabachi said. He also said the late-night crowd attracts drug dealers and prostitutes to the corner where Fidas is located.
Peterson introduced four witnesses to rebut the police charge and the general complaints. Arthur Fidas insisted, "There's no service after 2," although he said people who have called in orders might not pick them up until a few minutes after 2.
Many people have not gotten the word that Fidas no longer is open all night, so they knock on the door at all hours, the Fidas witnesses said. Cleaning crews are inside with the lights on, but no business is done, they testified.
City Councilwoman Josephine DiRuzzo pleaded for consideration for the neighbors, some of whom, she said, could not come to the hearing because of the lack of parking near City Hall.
"This is their home and they want to live in peace," she said. At the same time, DiRuzzo said, she does not want to harm the diner's legitimate business.
After listening to extensive testimony about whether people inside Fidas after closing are doing light or heavy cleaning, or something else, the councilwoman left with a warning.
"Maybe people think we're playing a game here," she said. Neighbors will continue to monitor the diner and, if problems recur, she will bring a busload of them to the next hearing, DiRuzzo said.
"I won't be so easy to deal with the next time I have to come down here," she said.
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