Central to the argument for saving Providence’s Superman Building with public investment is a vision of the downtown economy driven by residents as much as office workers.
It’s a vision that’s emerged over the last two decades of downtown revitalization and would take a major leap forward if Rhode Island’s tallest building was filled with 280 apartments in the heart of the Financial District.
The new residents and their neighbors in other buildings would draw different services, such as a supermarket or expanded mass transit, than offices would.
The two recent studies of potential uses for the Superman Building at 111 Westminster St. outline the demographic and market shifts that have local developers rushing away from office construction toward rental housing.
Tag Archives | Economy
The former executive director of Rhode Island’s Economic Development Corporation wants to build a biomass to renewable energy plant along Providence’s waterfront on Allens Avenue, but he said the city needs to commit to freezing commercial tax rates to make the project happen.
In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and another 70,000 were injured. That’s one death every two hours.
It’s impossible to quantify the human toll of traffic fatalities, but as David Nelson at Project for Public Spaces points out, AAA estimates that traffic crashes cost America $300 billion annually in the form of medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other factors. That works out to three times the annual cost of congestion reported by the Texas Transportation Institute. But while we’re spending billions “fighting congestion” with expensive new roads, getting a handle on pedestrian deaths and injuries is almost a non-issue at your average state DOT.
The New York Times: Where ‘Share the Road’ Is Taken Literally
“Woonerf” is what the Dutch call a special kind of street or group of streets that functions as shared public space — for pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, for slow-moving, cautiously driven cars as well.
Rhode Island recently spent a large sum of money to extend MBTA commuter rail service south to TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction. Both of them feature large parking garages (although the TF Green Interlink facility is for more than rail transit) that are not typical of suburban train stations and were very expensive.
These stations are only served by select trains on weekdays only, and feature long journey times to Boston – 1:35 from TF Green and 1:50 from Wickford Junction. Though these stations can be useful for commuting to downtown Providence – I’ve used the TF Green service for that myself – Providence is not nearly the employment market Boston is. What’s more, the Wickford Junction station is in a particularly inauspicious location.
Unsurprisingly, ridership is low. TF Green had about 200 passengers per day as of last summer, and Wickford Junction about 150.
With a mind-numbing total price tag of $100 million for this project (the estimated cost of just the transit portions) – almost $300,000 per rider – it’s unlikely that this will ever be viewed as a successful project.
As with the philosophy of the Boston area commuter rail generally, this service expansion was based on expanding the coverage area, but not the quality of service. In effect, it is an equity investment to make access to transit more equally available geographically (though economically more troubled areas like Pawtucket remain without service, so it doesn’t provide more economic equity).
While geographic equity is a legitimate government goal, public transit requires certain characteristics such as origin and destination demand, density of residences and employment, and walkable destinations in order to work well. It’s possible to add service to areas, but that does not mean it will be cost effective or well patronized.
Additionally, the South County expansions don’t move the needle for Rhode Island. One of the biggest challenges facing the area is of course the economy. In the Greater New England there are basically two main sources of wealth generation: New York and Boston. To the extent that you are in New England and are tied to one of those markets, you are generally succeeding. To the extent that you are cut off from them, you are struggling. The Providence area struggles because it is not as able to tap into the Boston economy given the just far enough distance between them by both car and transit.
Federal Hill and West Side friends and neighbors rallied on Sunday morning in support of Cluck!, an urban farm supply store that is trying to open at the site of a former gas station on Broadway.
The business was approved by Zoning to open but was challenged in court on a technicality and lost, forcing owner Drake Patten to begin the Zoning process from scratch. Read Drake’s commentary on what has happened.
Fri 4/12, 5-7pm, The Providence Athenaeum presents the weekly SALON: RI Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg in conversation with Kipp Bradford, Senior Design Engineer and Lecturer, School of Engineering, Brown University; the final Salon in Bradford’s 5-part series, “The Innovation Way of Life: Stories about Community, Culture, and Commerce,” looking at how RI can cultivate a sustainable ecology of innovation.
In 2012 the RI Foundation awarded its first annual RI Innovation Fellowships, designed to stimulate RI residents to create solutions to RI challenges by providing seed funding for social impact. Innovation Fellows receive up to $300,000 for up to 3 years to develop and implement ideas that aim to dramatically improve any area of life in RI. Winning ideas must have potential for big impact, and in the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation, “risk-taking is essential.” Also in 2012, the Foundation hosted a two-day summit, “Making It Happen in RI,” an economic convening of over 300 Rhode Islanders to brainstorm ways to improve the state’s economy. Join series curator and 2012 Innovation Fellowship Finalist Bradford in conversation with RI Foundation President and CEO Steinberg to learn why the Foundation has chosen to invest in innovation in these ways, what the results have been so far, and how the Foundation can best enhance the innovation potential of RI in the future. Sponsors: Michael, Anne, and Amelia Spalter.
The Salon takes place at the Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street in Providence; entrance is at ground floor-level door at the corner of Benefit and College Streets. Free and open to the public. More at providenceathenaeum.org.
Tues 4/16, 5:30 – 7:30pm (5:30pm reception, 6pm program), RI Public Radio and the Providence Athenaeum present: Policy & Pinot, a timely conversation series on vital issues facing our state – “Bicycling Toward Urban Renewal.”
Providence is striving to become a city where young people want to live and work. For many, having a green way to commute is vital. Join panelists Providence Mayor Angel Taveras; Cornish Associates Architect Steve Durkee; Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. Director of Bicycle Transportation Planning & Design Bill DeSantis; and RI Bicycle Coalition Board President Matt Moritz, along with RIPR Environmental Reporter Bradley Campbell for a lively discussion about how making the city an attractive place to live and bike could boost the capital city’s bottom line.
Free and open to the public, reservations required: email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 351-2800 to reserve seats. Policy & Pinot takes place at the Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street in Providence; entrance is at ground floor-level door at the corner of Benefit and College Streets. More at providenceathenaeum.org.
The Buffalo News: Development soars along Metro Rail
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is spawning a housing boom along the Metro Rail line, as developers look to provide lofts and apartments for some of the 17,500 workers expected to be employed there.
Note their take on parking:
The new downtown cluster will provide enough parking for patients and visitors, according to Medical Campus President Matthew K. Enstice. But because the campus would rather spend its resources on medical facilities than parking garages, planners are encouraging the big new influx of employees to use public transportation.
“This is how you force culture change,” Enstice said. “We’re actually doing it.”
Plans call for bicycle racks placed at strategic locations, rental-car checkouts for employees, and an interconnected and walkable campus that will encourage thousands of people to live in the city near Metro Rail.
The plan “has to work” because there is no alternative, Enstice said. There is no room to park 17,500 cars on the 170-acre Medical Campus.
Also, read Stephen Miller’s take on how Providence needs to be taking heed of what Buffalo is doing:
You can have a vibrant small city, or you can have cheap, ample parking in and around downtown. You cannot have both, for the simple reason that parking takes up a lot of space that would otherwise be used by people doing economically productive things. Buffalo seems to have learned this lesson. Providence, meanwhile, is drowning in downtown parking as the metro area’s economy stagnates.
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Mayor Taveras is unveiling his Economic Development Report.
- Providence Business News: Taveras outlines economic development plan
- WPRI: Mayor’s economic plan includes freezing commercial taxes, redeveloping Kennedy Plaza
Pledging Action, Mayor Taveras Outlines Plan to Grow Providence’s Economy
‘Putting Providence Back to Work’ report presents roadmap to improve the business climate, infrastructure and human capital in Rhode Island’s Capital City
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Angel Taveras today announced a 20-step economic development action plan to put Providence residents back to work and jumpstart the economy of Rhode Island’s Capital City.
The Mayor said that Providence’s economy must be built on the success of a broad range of industries and sectors, and pledged swift action to improve Providence’s business climate, infrastructure and human capital.
“When we work together, we can compete head to head with any city or state in this country,” said Mayor Taveras. “Nothing will change minds about Providence as much as continuing our track record of success.”
The Mayor outlined five immediate steps his administration will pursue to support and grow Providence’s economy:
- Freeze the commercial tax rate – The Taveras administration will work with the Providence City Council to enact a seven-year commercial real estate tax freeze that guarantees consistency and stability for developers in Rhode Island and beyond.
“Freezing our commercial property tax rate will send a message that Providence is serious about attracting new business. We look forward to the day when economic growth in our City enables us to actually lower Providence’s commercial rate,” Mayor Taveras said.
- Fix the City’s Permitting Process – Contained in the FY14 budget that Mayor Taveras will present to the City Council next month are two positions to staff a new unit in the Department of Inspections and Standards focused solely on reviewing and approving small-permit applications of under $100,000. These small projects account for 75 percent of all permit applications in the City.
Additionally, this summer the City will move its permit application process online. For the first time, developers will only need to log onto the City’s website to apply for a permit and get status updates on their applications.
- Remove Barriers to Redevelopment – The City will conduct an inventory of all major properties in need of redevelopment. For properties that are not defined as historic landmarks, the City will put on a fast-track for approval all projects to replace existing structures with new construction.
“We recognize that the City has an important role to play in facilitating new development. It is time to get cranes in the air and put people to work rebuilding our city,” Mayor Taveras said.
- Develop Surface Lots Citywide – To stimulate real estate development and ease the crunch on parking downtown, the Taveras administration will work with the City Council to provide tax stabilizations to developers who commit to new development on existing surface lots. New construction on an existing lot will be taxed based on the property’s current assessed value. This program will create jobs, incentivize new, mixed-use developments, and spur new investment on Providence’s major commercial corridors.
- Reinvent Kennedy Plaza – The City will work with the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, RIPTA and other public and private partners to reconfigure and reduce the number of buses in the Plaza and transform it into a pedestrian destination.
The Atlantic Cities: The Great Senior Sell-Off Could Cause the Next Housing Crisis
In the 20 years between 1990 and 2010, these consumers [baby boomers] were at their peak family size and peak income. And suddenly, there was massive demand in America from the same kinds of people for the same kinds of housing: big, large-lot single-family homes (often in suburbia). In those two decades, calculates researcher Arthur C. Nelson, 77 percent of demand for new housing construction in America was driven by this trend.
“Ok, if there’s 1.5 to 2 million homes coming on the market every year at the end of this decade from senior households selling off,” Nelson asks, “who’s behind them to buy? My guess is not enough.”
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As I look for a campus to get my graduate degree, a surprising factor weighs into my decision: How much am I going to pay for parking? As a non-driver, Rhode Island College may end up charging me the most of all.
The Rhode Island College website boasts that parking is a free service offered to all students. Economists have a more accurate name for “free” services that are included with the cost of something else: bundled goods. The price of parking on campus is not actually free, it’s just bundled to the cost of tuition. Students pay for a parking spot whether they want one or not, even if they don’t own a car.
In fact, 99 percent of parking spots in the United States are bundled, from groceries to restaurant service, and at almost all of our jobs — so few of us think about parking’s cost. It’s not chump change. The median price of just one parking space is $15,000. With four parking spaces per car in the United States, the real-estate value of all those asphalt rectangles adds up to far more than the total value of all the country’s vehicles.
Mayor Angel Taveras
2013 State of the City Address
Providence Is Recovering
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 • (as prepared for delivery)
Governor, Mr. President, honorable members of the Providence City Council, distinguished guests, and my fellow residents of our great Capital City –
One year ago I stood before you in this Chamber with an urgent message for our City and the entire State of Rhode Island. Providence was in peril. Despite many difficult decisions and painful sacrifices made to pull Providence back from the brink, we were still $22 million short of closing a $110 million structural deficit.
Crucial steps necessary to navigate our City safely through our Category 5 fiscal hurricane had not yet come to pass. We still needed to reform our unsustainable pensions. And we needed Providence’s large, tax-exempt institutions to contribute more.
As I stood before you on February 13, 2012, Providence was running out of cash, and running out of time. In the months that followed, there were some who said Providence could not avoid filing for bankruptcy.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
Today it is my privilege to deliver a much more hopeful report on the State of our City: Providence is recovering.
Through collaborative efforts and shared sacrifice, we have all but eliminated our City’s $110 million structural deficit, and we expect to end this year with a balanced budget. Working together, we have accomplished what few believed possible.
We were determined to address the root causes of Providence’s fiscal emergency and prepared to act unilaterally if necessary. And we knew our City would never achieve a lasting recovery without addressing our unsustainable and spiraling pension costs.
In April, following months of actuarial analysis and public testimony, this City Council unanimously approved a pension reform ordinance that put Providence’s pension system on a sustainable path.
We recognized that passing the ordinance would likely lead to a high-stakes lawsuit with no real winners – because a decision in favor of the status quo would push our City over the brink. However, faced with the challenge of negotiating pension changes with more than 2,000 retirees who were not represented by a single entity, we saw no alternative.
Thinking about it this way, the basic problem of Providence (and by extension the rest of Rhode Island) becomes obvious: it is a small city, without an above average talent pool or assets, but with high costs and business-unfriendly regulation. Thus Providence will neither be competitive with elite talent centers like Boston, nor with smaller city peers like Nashville that are low cost and nearly “anything goes” from a regulatory perspective. There’s little prospect of materially changing either the talent/asset mix or the cost structure in the near term even if there was consensus to do so, which there isn’t. So expect struggles to continue, even if there’s a bit of lift from a change in national macroeconomic conditions.
DC Streetsblog: Will Massachusetts Tax Parking Lots to Fund Transit?
Here’s a transportation funding idea that aligns incentives nicely: taxing parking lots to pay for transit.
That’s what one former high-ranking state official is proposing for Massachusetts, ahead of a big announcement by the state Department of Transportation. Earlier this week Governing Magazine looked at the parking lot tax plan, part of a series of policy recommendations laid out by former Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary James Aloisi.
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Notice of Regular Meeting
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 – 4:45pm
Department of Planning and Development • 1st Floor Meeting Room
444 Westminster Street, Providence
- Call to Order
- Roll Call
- Approval of minutes from November 20th 2012 meeting – for action
- Approval of minutes from December 18th 2012 meeting – for action
- Director’s Report
Major Land Development Project
1. Case No. 12-011 MA – 257 Thayer Street (Final Plan Approval) The CPC approved the preliminary plan to construct a four story mixed use building with 95 dwelling units, underground parking and a landscaped courtyard in December 2012. The applicant is seeking final plan approval subject to fulfillment of preliminary plan conditions – for action (AP 13 Lots 42, 48, 104, 234, 235, 236, 237, 238 and 241, College Hill)
Institutional Master Plan
2. Amendment of Providence College’s Institutional Master Plan (IMP) The applicant is seeking to amend the IMP to reflect the institution’s requests for street abandonments and changes to the Institutional Overlay Zone – for action (Elmhurst)
City Council Referral
3. Referral 3359 – Abandonment of portions of Huxley Avenue, Wardlaw Avenue and Cumberland Street Petition by Providence College to abandon Huxley Avenue between AP 119 lot 8 and lot 229 and Cumberland Street between AP 81 lot 189 and lot 195 and Wardlaw Avenue from AP 81 lot 186 to lot 189 – for action (Elmhurst)
4. Referral 3360 – Extension of I-2 overlay zone Petition by Providence College to extend the I-2 overlay district to include certain lots on Wardlaw Avenue and Cumberland Street – for action (Elmhurst, AP 81 Lots 186, 188 and 189-196)
See also: Presumed Parking Lot-ification
5. Election of Officers Election of CPC officers – for discussion and action
 I-2 Educational Institutions – This zone is intended to permit higher education institutions and their expansion in a planned manner while protecting the surrounding neighborhoods. (Providence Zoning Ordinance)
It is that time of year for us to take a look back and What Cheer the good and What Jeer the bad.
Work commences on the Washington Bridge Linear Park
It has been in the works for years, but finally RIDOT has started work on the Washington Bridge Linear Park.
Through a $22 million contract, RIDOT will rebuild the remaining section of the original Washington Bridge that carries the existing bikeway and a section of the original highway bridge. In the same footprint will be a much wider bikeway and linear park. It will feature a separate bikeway and walking path, scenic overlooks, park benches, flag poles, decorative lighting and landscaped planters. The project also calls for restoration of the historic, multi-arch granite façade of the Washington Bridge and two operator’s houses from which an original drawbridge was controlled.
When opened, the new linear park will be named the George Redman Linear Park, after the East Providence resident who was instrumental in making the East Bay Bike Path a reality 25 years ago. Redman continues to advocate for bike path development across the state.
Wind Turbines at Fields Point
While they were installed in January, the whole City was speculating when the would finally start spinning. Turns out they wouldn’t start up until October. But now they are finally spinning and adding some environmental goodness to the Providence skyline. Hope we’ll some more.
Overnight parking expansion
While it has been studied endlessly for years (even as the rest of the world seemed to be able to embrace it and not devolve into chaos), in April, overnight parking has finally started spreading throughout the City.
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In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there have been a flurry of ideas on how to deal with the prospect that storms of such magnitude may no longer be once-in-a-lifetime events but the most visible manifestation–if you’re not a polar bear–of the havoc wreaked by climate change.
Seawalls. Levees. The kinds of things the Army Corps of Engineers typically builds to protect low-lying places like New Orleans just aren’t feasible for a place like Manhattan, says Stephen Cassell, the cofounder of New York’s Architectural Research Office. “It’s hard to predict how bad climate change will be,” Cassell says, noting that Sandy’s devastating surge was nearly 14 feet, which wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. “What if we build a barrier and the surge goes beyond that?”
Yes Providence, what if the storm surge is higher than our storm surge barrier?
New York Post: Growing NY through smarter taxes
How might two-tiered taxation work? In New York, land and improvements in residential areas are subject to an 18.6 percent property tax.Thus, land with a taxable value of $10,000 would be taxed $1,860, and improvements with a similar taxable value of $10,000 would owe another $1,860, a total of $3,720. Under a two-tier system, the tax rate for land could jump by, say, 50 percent, while the rate for improvement could be halved.In that case, the owner would pay $2,790 in land taxes and $930 for improvements — keeping the total to $3,720.
But here’s the payoff: The owner’s tax bill under that scheme would climb another $2,790 if he purchased a second lot with a taxable value of $10,000 — but by only $930 if he used that money toward building.Thus, hoarding would be discouraged; development encouraged.
The two-tier property tax has a proven record of success. In 1979, Pittsburgh began taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements. In the ensuing decade, building permits increased by 70.4 percent.
Via: Nesi’s Notes
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The fiscal cliff would have profound and draconian consequences for the City of Providence. If we go over the cliff, federal support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers will be cut by 20 percent which could force Providence to close up to four after-school programs that serve our highest-poverty neighborhoods. More than 100 young children could be denied access to Head Start — an early education program that helped me and so many other poor, young children start school ready to learn. More than 150 teachers could be locked out of high-quality professional development, putting our students at a disadvantage.
Beyond our schools, the fiscal cliff would cut energy assistance, elderly and handicapped transportation services, employment training and other vital services the newly reorganized Community Action Partnership of Providence provides.