Tom Gentz’s Comments at ChurchWoods Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

At the November 6, 2017 ChurchWoods Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, Tom Gentz shared the following statement summarizing what it took to make ChurchWoods a reality. Tom Gentz served as Charlestown Town Council President from 2010 to 2016.

View of ChurchWoods

I am honored to be asked to speak at the ChurchWoods Grand Opening Ceremony. This is a joyous day! We were here for the Ground Breaking in August 2016.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Tessman, former pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit on whose grounds we now stand close to today, gave birth to ChurchWoods in 2010, over eight years ago. When he looked at the one-time laundromat on property adjacent to his church, he thought of the public good and decided the location was perfect for a project that would benefit those less fortunate. He decided he should share his thoughts with me, as the then Charlestown Town Council president.

I invited Geoff Marchant, then president of Washington County Community Development Corporation, to a meeting on a cold January day at the Church of the Holy Spirit. Michael could not have been more positive about the affordable housing project, and though freezing outside, it was warm inside.

Armed with years of experience in the ways of public funding and a can-do attitude, Geoff worked tirelessly to put together the business plans, applications, numbers and sketches for ChurchWoods. Michael Tessman named the project “ChurchWoods,” and for obvious reasons, the name stuck. Geoff began an eight year quest to make today happen. Thank you, Geoff.

View of ChurchWoods

Geoff faced numerous funding issues. Following guidance from the public funders, Geoff tried combining ChurchWoods with another Charlestown affordable housing project, Shannock Village Cottages. Following revised guidance from the same funders, he broke the projects apart. Then, the funders announced that the project would qualify for tax credit funding, but then, they decided not to deliver that funding. After each redesign, Geoff appeared with updates before the Charlestown Town Council.

Anyone else would have given up, but not Geoff.

During the discussions, Charlestown Town Council Vice President George Tremblay stepped forward to volunteer his considerable academic skills to create a needs analysis document for affordable housing in local communities. When measured against the criteria, ChurchWoods proved a worthy project. Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz, Planner Jane Weidman, the Planning Commission, the Affordable Housing Commission and Zoning Official Joe Warner – all collaborated with Geoff to bring ChurchWoods to fruition.

Throughout the trial and error approach to funding, the Episcopal Diocese supported The Rev. Dr. Michael Tessman’s concern for the public good and the vision for ChurchWoods. Special thanks to Pastor Eileen Lindeman, of the Church of the Holy Spirit who just delivered the invocation for her total support of ChurchWoods and to Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who chaired the Rhode Island Episcopal Diocesan Board. The patience of Job was required to maintain faith in a great project desperate for funding. Mayor Avedisian worked with the board to keep the property off the market and convinced them to sacrifice ready cash and wait for ChurchWoods to be funded. Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to all three of you.

Almost miraculously, Geoff Marchant found the silver lining in the dark cloud named Superstorm Sandy. He studied options in Superstorm Sandy Disaster Recovery money for affordable housing and then realized rising FEMA flood insurance rates would drive some Charlestown seniors out of their homes. He researched and found 25 seniors who could lose their homes and wrote a $4.4 M Sandy DR grant for affordable housing. That grant also provided equal Sandy funds for remediation. Geoff coupled the Sandy DR money with Building Homes Rhode Island funds of $1.9 M.

Finally, Geoff had a win-win. The seniors in need could find a home in ChurchWoods, and the state received $3.5 M in Sandy funds. Support in Washington from Senators Reed and Whitehouse and from Representative Langevin tipped the scales in favor of ChurchWoods. Rhode Island is blessed with a wonderful congressional team – thank you all.

Kevin Flynn, then Director of Rhode Island Statewide Planning, worked with Geoff to obtain funding at the state level. Geoff’s hard work and Kevin’s recognition of this worthy project saved ChurchWoods from the scrap heap. Charlestown’s $1M affordable housing bond, passed in 2004, provided the balance of needed funding in the amount of $375,000. Charlestown, I proudly add, is the only one of the state’s 39 cities and towns to have an affordable housing bond.

In summary, Geoff found the solution to the perfect storm. The Town of Charlestown used its funding for the property acquisition from the most patient Rhode Island Episcopal Diocese. Geoff wrote the Sandy grant to leverage funding for Rhode Island, and our congressional delegation put their shoulders to the grindstone to make ChurchWoods happen.

Everyone seated behind me and many in the audience worked to make ChurchWoods a reality. Thank you all.

Geoff tells me that ChurchWoods is fully rented and the move in date for ChurchWoods’ residents is November 15, 2017. Congratulations to all the new ChurchWoods’ residents and enjoy your new home!

Geoff tells me he is retiring effective January 31, 2018, so best of luck in your retirement!

Thomas B. Gentz
Thomas B. Gentz