How the 195 Innovation District became a complex of apartment buildings



Friday, September 24, 2021

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195 Land – a promise to transform the RI economy with high income jobs, now a high end apartment strategy

The relocation of Interstate-195 to Providence and the creation of the 195 Innovation District were designed to be a game-changer for Providence and the Rhode Island economy.

The project, which began in the 1990s, was the second phase of Providence’s transformation. This was to build on the success of moving rivers and the creation of Waterplace Park.


District 195 was to be the economic engine. He promised new ventures in key growth areas like tech and biotech, but now, decades later, development to date – and the most recent proposals – have been mostly high-end residential apartments – with average rents of $ 2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment.

The last proposal last week was more or less the same: retail on the first floor and tony apartments above.

The New York Times touted the impact of how the new land opportunity would transform Providence in 2009.

“The surplus plots are located between the city’s hospital district, its downtown and its educational institutions, and the vision is for a mix of uses that will foster a new ‘knowledge-based economy’ centered on educational and medical institutions in Providence.

The then mayor said Lot 195 was a game-changer for the future of Providence.

“’This is an extraordinary once in a lifetime opportunity for our city,” then Providence Mayor David Cicilline said in an interview with The Times.

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Exeter Property Group is developing Emblem 125, a mixed-use project on Plot 28 that includes 248 residential units and 22,700 square feet of retail space.

Cost and return

There is no official list of the costs of moving I-195, corrective measures, and creating the 195 Innovation District, but best estimates are between $ 800 billion and $ 1 billion.

Today, Project 195 looks more and more like a housing development – a mishmash of apartment buildings targeting students, primarily Brown, and commuters for jobs in the Boston market.

In 2011, when the Rhode Island State Senate confirmed the initial list of appointees to Commission 195, then Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio promoted the possibility of creating jobs in the innovative economy.

“The availability of this reclaimed land presents an exciting opportunity to attract new high-quality jobs and strengthen the economy of the city and state,” Ruggerio said in 2011. “This redevelopment district is an advantage key to our state. It bodes well for our ambitious goals that this collection of exceptional individuals guide the development of this vital neighborhood. “

In 2014, Commission 195 marketed the project as “The Link” and touted the business opportunities.

“Rhode Island is home to many internationally renowned industries including marine science, manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, has funding programs for businesses in all phases of development,” the website said.

“From microloans to incentives to taxable bonds, a wide range of corporate finance solutions are available to all organizations looking to relocate to The LINK,” was the promise.

“Life sciences, information technology and digital media are currently the fastest growing sectors in the state, with enormous potential for even more growth. Rhode Island offers business development assistance for these companies, including tax credits, as well as assistance with site selection, outsourcing and workforce training, “wrote” The Link “.

“The Slater Technology Fund and the Science and Technology Advisory Council fund technology companies, implement R&D support programs and promote collaboration between these innovative sectors,” the commission wrote.

And in 2014, frustration grew at the little land that had been developed. “They take forever, don’t they? Joe Paolino, former mayor of Providence and local real estate developer, told GoLocal. “My frustration is that they already have so many great developers who want to develop there. Why do they have to waste time?

The former Dean of the Business School at the University of Rhode Island was even more critical of the Commission’s failures.

“The Commission is an example of the ‘creepy meatball theory’: bring together a group of individuals with little or no experience in economic development, give them a budget and some authority, let them come together for a few years and get little action other than what would have happened without them anyway, ”said Ed Mazze.

In 2014, then governor Lincoln Chafee championed the speed at which the 195 lands were moving towards development.

“The site is very active as we ensure the construction of good solid infrastructure – roads, utilities, sewers, drainage, among other preparatory works. Field 195 has been marked, the LINK, and the implementation of a marketing plan has begun. It was a thoughtful project and smart decisions were made by the members of the Commission, ”said Chafee.

And in 2016, another GoLocal review of the progress of the project’s development triggered a defensive response from the Commission.

“Five years after the establishment of Commission 195, jobs and construction so far have been limited to the new non-profit Johnson and Wales science building, the first and only project to date completed on the old one. land of the interstate highway. Current commission chair Joe Azrack, however, champions the speed of development and future prospects of the more than 26 acres of land in Providence, ”GoLocal reported in 2016.

“Whether it’s Providence or Boston, or any metropolitan area, when you talk about large-scale urban redevelopment – and 27 acres is large-scale redevelopment – it’s complicated,” said [then-195 Chair Joe] Azrack. “It takes a long time to do everything from the various legislative steps that need to happen at the state or city level, to the clean-up of the site, to the establishment of utilities and infrastructure, and then to the interest.””

Over the decade, senior management and the board of directors have been constantly evolving.

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Tech jobs were the promise. It is difficult to find new net growth in the field 195

Few jobs in technology or biotechnology

Now, seven years later, the Link has changed its name again, but hopes of attracting major life science, information or digital media companies seem to have bypassed Providence. Instead, the 195 lots are now mostly developed for apartments, a supermarket and a hotel.

Not on a plot in the 195 Innovation District, but next door was the state-subsidized building of the state nursing school. Boston-based developer CV Properties LLC converted the South Street Station (former powerhouse) for $ 220 million.

This week, Saul Kaplan, the founder of the Business Innovation Factory, tweeted after the approval of Amazon’s distribution warehouse in Johnston, Rhode Island, about the lack of progress in building an economy innovation in Rhode Island: “We wanted more of an innovation economy. we have an amazon customer fulfillment center. #RhodeIsland. “

To date, according to the Commission, four projects have been completed, three projects are under construction and two more are under development.

A parking garage, apartments at Chestnut Commons, a Johnson and Wales class building and the Wexford building which houses shared offices, Brown University and an office for Johnson and Johnson – around 100 jobs have been completed.

Under construction, a hotel, an apartment building on Emblem 125 and another apartment building with a grocery store on plot 6.

The two projects in progress are the Tour Fane (apartments and condos) and a project on plot 9 for 130 additional apartments.

Together, Commission 195 has approved over 1,000 new apartments and has not functionally developed any project that creates new jobs in the innovation economy. Johnson & Johnson jobs have been moved from another location in town.

Commission 195, state and city officials hired a high-level planning group to develop a master plan for the use of the land.

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195 Land developed for high-end accommodation and a supermarket

Chan Krieger Sieniewicz’s 168-page report presented a very different strategy for the 195 lands from what is being achieved today.

Almost all of the principles of the report’s recommendations have been abandoned. “Adjust the height in stories, rather than feet, to allow developers flexibility and variation in the skyline. This will also be beneficial for uses in research and development, a use which is encouraged on certain plots. Research and development facilities typically have higher floor-to-floor heights than office buildings, ”the report said in connection with the development of research space.

Committee 195 spokesperson Cara Cromwell repeatedly declined to answer questions about the strategic shift from an employment-focused strategy to a housing-focused one.

In this 2009 story, The Times reported, “The city has already claimed eight acres straddling the Providence River. It will become a new municipal park with a sculpture garden and a terraced amphitheater, among other design elements. Construction will begin in another year. or two. ”Twelve years later, there is little public art in the neighborhood, no public amphitheater, and the long-promised pedestrian bridge (now named the Michael Van Leesten Bridge) was completed years later. and at a budgetary cost of $ 22 million – over $ 18 million more than the original budget.

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