27 June 2011
Dear Mr. Speaker and Providence Representatives:
The Jewelry District Association (JDA) strongly urges you to take no action on Senate Bill 114 as Amended.
JDA membership is made up of a broad cross-section of businesses and residents and institutions, including the largest employers in Providence. For the past six years the JDA has participated in all the City’s planning sessions on the Jewelry District along with interested parties from throughout the City and the State. Two and a half years ago the JDA and the Providence Foundation sponsored a study by the Cecil Group that outlined strategies for creating a thriving mixed-use community in the Jewelry District. Now we and others are engaged with the City and their consultants, Perkins + Will, in work that will result in I-195 parcel develop-ment plans, updated citywide zoning and a streamlined permitting process.
With no regard for these planning efforts, Senate Bill 114 proposes a Redevelopment Commission for the I-195 parcels that has sweeping powers and little or no checks and balances. As one critic said, it creates, “a city within a city,” which flies in the face of comprehensive planning.
All seven members would be chosen by the Governor, three from a list submitted from the Mayor — cementing imbalance: the quorum of four allows the possibility that decisive votes could be taken with no voting member from Providence present. The Commission would have ultimate control over the sale, planning, zoning and permitting of the parcels. There are no expertise requirements or performance standards for the Commissioners or recourse to their decisions. They can issue bonds, which may default to public payment. The Commissioners would be compensated for their expenses related to their duties at rates they alone determine. And on and on it goes. This is not smart or forward movement. Indeed, the Bill’s secretive birth and rapid advancement through the Senate gave rise to the question of whose interests were being served by this Bill.
For Providence and Rhode Island this is the opportunity of a generation. We are now in the end game of a $610,000,000 public project. Given the hopes everyone has invested in the re-development of the I-195 parcels and the rest of the Jewelry District — it’s important to get it right. Let’s take some time and come up with a better Bill. Both the City and the State deserve a better structure than this Redevelopment Commission.
Mr. Speaker, please allow this ill-conceived Bill to expire.
Arthur Salisbury, President
Jewelry District Association