July 27, 2014 01:35AM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
RICHMOND — A golf cart bounces along the narrow asphalt track that circles the golf course as workers hurry to prepare for the anticipated August opening. From the sidelines, taking it all in, were the “locals”: A turkey strolling calmly into the brush; a doe lifting her head to watch the cart before resuming her meal. This will be an enclave, The Preserve at Boulder Hills, for people who can afford the best of everything, a place that will offer a taste of the country, cushioned by an abundance of comfort and amenities.
“This property is so unique, unlike anything else in Rhode Island,” said owner, North Kingstown developer Paul Mihailides. “It has 180-foot elevation changes, and I like the fact that we really are in the town of Wyoming, because it’s more like Wyoming than it is like Rhode Island.”
Mihailides, an entrepreneur who plays his cards close to his chest, would not divulge his exact age (“50-ish”) or details of his holdings.
“I’ve developed more than 20 golf assets,” he revealed when pressed, adding that he is also chairman of Famars USA, a prestigious maker of guns, knives and hunting accessories.
The 174-acre gated property at 87 Kingstown Road is currently undergoing an ambitious rebranding. In addition to renovating the 18-hole course, Mihailides has plans that go far beyond golf. With golf’s popularity waning over the past several years, Mihailides said he needed new enticements to attract his target market: well-heeled baby boomers.
“Lifestyle changes and awareness and just being in tune with nature is where all the baby boomers are going,” he said.
The list of activities to be offered at the Preserve seems to have something for everyone.
“We have things like astronomy, ATVs, bird hunting, bocce, camping, cooking, cross country skiing, cross training, executive retreats, fishing, golf, hiking, horseshoe pits, ice skating, mountain biking, rock climbing,” Mihailides said, reading from one of his brochures.
All those diversions won’t come cheap. The Preserve is a private club. Mihailides will retain 90 percent ownership of the property, but he is selling shares to approved applicants at $100,000 each. Seventeen share have already been sold, he said, and they will be limited to a maximum of 130. In addition to the $100,000 buy-in, annual membership dues will range from $5,000 for an individual to $8,000 for a family.
The smell of fresh paint hangs in the air at the newly-renovated 25,000-square foot clubhouse, which features ostrich and crocodile hide wall coverings and a sharkskin-padded, zebra wood bar. The 300-seat banquet facility, the only area that will be open to the public, can be rented for receptions and special events. Mihailides has hired Guy Gencarella, formerly of Guytanno’s Cafe in Westerly, as the Preserve’s executive chef.
There are also plans for a 7,000-square foot retail facility and five cabins where owners can stay overnight. Across from the clubhouse, workers are building tennis courts — two clay and one grass — and a swimming pool in the shape of a ram’s head.
“The Boulder Hills symbol was always a ram. It’s part of our brand,” Mihailides said.
Mihailides’s relationship with Boulder Hills goes back to the mid-1980s, when he bought the vacant, wooded property with the intention of building houses. He built 32 housing units in the early 1990s, and was planning to build 100 more when he was approached with the idea of building a golf course. When another piece of property with frontage on Route 138 became available, Mihailides bought it and began building the golf course and clubhouse, which opened in 1995.
Then, in 2000, Mihailides was invited to partner with Foxwoods Resort Casino, which bought a 50 percent interest in the course.
“They were looking for golf in the area and they were trying to align themselves with strategic partners at the time that had good credibility in the marketplace,” he said.
Foxwoods sent its golfing guests to Boulder Hills until 2002, when it began developing the 36-hole Lake of Isles complex on tribal land close to the casino. Milhailides said Foxwoods bought him out. In 2006, after operating the course for four years while Lake of Isles was being built, Foxwoods closed Boulder Hills.
The property languished until 2013, when it was again put up for sale. Mihailides saw the listing and bought it back.
“The property had so much money invested in it as it related to cart paths and wonderful tee boxes built, and it was beautifully landscaped, and while they let it go to pieces, the foundation, the structure that was here, and the infrastructure and the elements — couldn’t pass it up,” he said.
One project Mihailides wanted to build on the property but eventually had to abandon was a 300-member private gun club with an outdoor shooting range.
The range would have been located about 720 feet from the nearest house on Springbrook Road in Meadowbrook Estates, and about a half mile from the Foster Woods subdivision off Kenyon Hill Trail. Residents objected to the proposal and the application was withdrawn in 2011.
Mihailides, who started his career as a carpenter and worked his way up to become a successful real estate developer, shrugged off that setback and now is looking ahead to bigger things. He is confident that shares in the Preserve will sell briskly to busy, successful people who want a peaceful getaway, but not the headaches of maintaining it.
“We wanted to create a model which is not onerous, so if you don’t come, you don’t feel bad,” he said. “But if you have a ski house in Vermont taxed at $20,000, $30,000, you’ve got to pay maintenance and fees. We’re trying to make it so it’s not burdensome, so that it’s a pleasure to belong here,” he said.
Mihailides appeared at a July 15 public liquor license hearing, where he answered questions from the Town Council and owners of abutting homes. Most of their questions were about the bird hunting that would be taking place on the property, and the 50 bison that will also live there.
Kenyon Hill Trail resident Lee House asked if Mihailides would consider eliminating the hunting.
“Would you consider not having any shooting at all on that property, because, I’ll be honest with you, my backyard is on that golf course,” she said.
“I have no interest in doing that,” Mihailides said. “It’s against my rights. I have the right to allow people to hunt on my property.”
But Mihailides assured residents and council members that the two bird hunting areas would be far from inhabited areas, and that the hunting, which would consist of just a few gunshots, would usually be in the early morning.
As for the bison, Mihailides has already obtained the necessary permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The animals, which will live in a fenced area, will not be hunted, although some might be sent to a licensed slaughterhouse for their meat.
The hearing, which lasted nearly an hour, ended with council members approving the liquor license. Licenses for victualing, holiday sales and indoor entertainment were also approved under a separate council agenda item.
The Preserve lies in two distinct municipal zones: commercial or “planned development,” and 87 acres of open space which is zoned residential. The property is currently valued at $2.8 million and property taxes were $43,630 in 2013.
Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish said he welcomed Mihailides’s investment and hoped it would have a ripple effect.
“I’m excited that Mr. Mihailides has seen the opportunity to invest back into the town of Richmond,” he said. “It will bring outside individuals into the town which will ripple out into the fabric of Richmond, with other businesses seeing what the town has to offer.”
Mihailides presented his pre-development plan for the commercially zoned area of the property to the Planning Board in November 2013.
“They need to come back to the Planning Board for a development plan review of that portion of the property, and when they’re going to do that, I do not know,” Town Planner Denise Stetson explained. “I think it was very favorably received. The Planning Board all thought what they were doing was a positive addition to the property.”
Stetson emphasized that the Planning Board hearing had focused only on the commercial portion of the parcel. The other proposed uses, including the keeping of bison, have not gone before the Planning Board, but are generally permitted in the town.
“We’re a rural area. It’s interesting, and it’s an allowed use and they’ve gone through DEM. I don’t think anyone had a problem,” she said.