By Cynthia Drummond
RICHMOND — Before Friday’s ribbon-cutting to officially open his indoor shooting range and “Sporting Shoppe,” Paul Mihalides, owner of the Preserve at Boulder Hills, stood on the staircase looking down at the assembled guests and admitted that he was a bit choked up.
“Im a little emotional today, because my family’s worked so far to achieve such a great goal. My dream has become a reality,” he said.
Mihailides’ dream began in 2013 when he bought the property and began making extensive upgrades, transforming the formerly neglected Boulder Hills golf course into an all-inclusive, members-only sporting club.
The facility, on Kingstown Road, has continued to grow. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, the Preserve now features private residences, a clubhouse and several outbuildings. It employs about 200 people.
There’s much more to come. Expansion plans include a five-story hotel, which has already received approval from the town, a residential and commercial complex of 186 single-family and multifamily units, a convenience store with a gas station, a day care, a health club and gym, an equestrian center, two more clubhouses, and a helicopter landing pad. When construction is complete, the Preserve will occupy 750 acres.
While some residents, particularly nearby property owners, have objected to the project, efforts to delay it have subsided of late. The leader of an opposition group did not respond to a telephone message.
The Preserve has the unequivocal backing of the Town Council, and three councilors took part in the ribbon-cutting. One of the council’s top priorities has been attracting new businesses to the town, and council President Paul Michaud said the Preserve was an example of the type of development Richmond needs.
“I think this probably is going to be one of the biggest developments this town has ever seen,” he said. “I know some people aren’t that crazy about it, but I think it’s basically a business where it’s not going to have an impact on our school system…It’s going to bring in needed taxes for the town of Richmond.”
Council Vice President Mark Trimmer and councilor Gary Wright also welcomed the expansion.
“I think it’s an excellent, quality, top-notch project,” Trimmer said. “It’s a tremendous boost to the town and it’s an awesome alternative to a shopping mall or another housing development.”
Wright, who wants to improve the appearance of Richmond’s commercial center, said the Preserve was what the town needed.
“The welcome mat is out for businesses like this,” Wright said. “We need the businesses, we need the tax revenue. My big point this year is beautification, and they’re making it look nice, this part of town.”
The Sporting Shoppe and adjacent shooting range, which, Mihailides is fond of pointing out, is the largest indoor range in the country, will open to the public on Saturday.
“My family and our professionals have worked so hard to achieve such a great goal in such a short period of time,” he said. “This is an extraordinary task. We started in November, we got it completed in July. It’s a 50,000-square foot structure. Just the construction alone should have taken a year. Not only did we finish the construction in less than a year, but we opened.”
When the expansion is complete, the Preserve is expected to employ several hundred people. Lt. Gov. Dan McKee cited the development’s economic benefits to the region.
“I toured here before it was built and I heard their vision and not only will it help people enjoy the outdoors and the different activities that are here in Rhode Island, but it’s going to attract people from outside the state,” he said. “It’s going to attract some pretty good economics for the state of Rhode Island. It’s an unbelievable facility.”