Greater City Providence

UPDATED City: Put the Waterfront to Work


The city has released their Waterfront Plan and accompanying website and blog.

I haven’t had a chance to delve into it much, so I’m just putting this here for conversation, not my commentary (for now). The website highlights two main goals:

Now, the City of Providence has a new plan to Put the Waterfront to Work. The two main goals of this initiative are:

  1. Expand the Port of Providence from Thurbers Avenue to Fields Point, reserving the area solely for marine industrial uses with a new Working Waterfront Protection Zone.
  2. Help the area along Allens Avenue attract new businesses, create jobs and produce more tax revenue, while allowing existing businesses to continue to thrive.

Look through the report and share your thoughts in the comments.

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The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance has sent me their rebuttal to the city’s Waterfront Plan. Posted below, for informational purposes, Greater City Providence has not taken a position on the waterfront as of yet.[/alert]

A few points:

  1. The city is proposing their new “Working Waterfront Protective Zone” only south of Thurbers Ave. This area is primarily ProvPort which is city owned land that is managed by ProvPort. The exact same heavy industrial water-dependent activities occur on northern Allens Ave (Sprague, Promet, Rhode Island Recycled Metals) yet they do not receive similar protections, why?
  2. The city’s plan for Thurbers Ave north on Allens Ave would still declare all properties in the area as “blighted and substandard.” That is the first step required before moving forward with condemnation and eminent domain procedures. And that designation would be in effect for 40 years. You do not declare an area, including successful businesses who employ hundreds of people, as “blighted and substandard” just for the heck of it.
  3. The plan for Allens Ave would allow for residential and hotel uses directly next to water-dependent and heavy industrial businesses. This is a recipe for existing users to be complained out of business by future hotel/condo guests and residents. This type of “mixed-use” is particularly inappropriate directly in between an oil terminal – Sprague, an asphalt plant – Narragansett Improvement, and a marine repair shipyard – Promet.
  4. It is inaccurate that that there has been no industrial growth on Allens Avenue for the past 20 years. Just 7 water-dependent, water-enhanced, and industrial businesses in the Allens Avenue area are responsible for:
    • $294,000,000 in annual business sales
    • 372 workers (90% full time) with an average total compensation of approximately $60,000 per year
    • Direct, indirect, and induced effects combined = $324 million in total business output within the state, over 700 jobs, and nearly $30 million in household income

    Similarly, J. Goodison Company is a full-service marine repair contractor which employs 19 people. J. Goodison has partnered with Promet Marine for the past three years, and primarily operates from Promet’s pier. As a federal HUBZone contractor, J. Goodison has helped attract numerous Coast Guard repair contracts, and has hired and trained many employees from economically depressed areas of Providence.

  5. The offhanded remark about adult entertainment businesses is extremely unfair. City zoning only allows adult entertainment establishments in M-1 or M-2 districts. The western section of Allens Ave is primary zoned M-2, so this is one of the only areas in the city that such establishments can legally operate.

For more responses to the city’s Waterfront Plan, please see the detailed statements below:

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • The existing businesses on Allens Avenue shouldn’t have had to scream as loudly as they did, for as long as they did, to get the city to listen. It also shouldn’t have taken a full-blown economic depression to make the Mayor give up his tacky little Miami style vision of an Allens Avenue condo district.

    But, I’m glad to see that some common sense is finally being used here. It’s progress.

  • Well, condos on Allens Avenue are not completely off the table, from the website:

    Businesses currently along Allens Avenue will continue to function as before and can grow and expand. The Plan does do two important things:

    1. The Plan removes zoning restrictions that hampered efforts to build the economy along Allens Avenue, and;
    2. It puts legal parameters in place that will allow a wide variety of economic activities to co-exist and thrive together.

    Here’s how it will work:

    • Before opening for business, new property owners will have to agree to deed restrictions and lease restrictions acknowledging that common by-products of industrial uses such as noise, odor and vibration do not constitute a nuisance.
    • In the event residential development is proposed along Allens Avenue, it will only be allowed north of Thurbers Avenue (the W-3 zone). Further, residential uses will be allowed on a conditional basis only. Residential proposals, like condominiums, will require special permits. Finally, priority will be given to residential uses that are tied to the associated commercial uses, such as workforce housing for employees.

    This applies to Allens Avenue north of Thurbers.

  • The city may be attempting a compromise for the waterfront by considering residential development with restrictive covenants in deeds, but is this the wisest usage for the remaining industrial waterfront?

    The city’s inner harbor was cut off in the 50s by 195 and the hurricane barrier and there’s only a small vestige of relatively inactive industrial waterfront in Fox Point. India Point was made a park in the 70s. Why north of Thurbers? Why not north of Public? North of Thurbers almost a mile long stretch of the industrial waterfront. That’s almost half of the 2 ¼ mile long working waterfront for the whole city. There’s nowhere else to push port activities, unless you consider Quonset. There are already plans to begin residential-izing the East Providence waterfront.

    With the discussion about creating a “green” economy besides the educational and medical ones, where will support and transport facilities go if any viable green industry is developed in Providence? Narragansett Bay is developed and unlike Boston, New York or Seattle where there was much more coastline for port activities to begin with, if Providence’s port is reduced to a little over a mile in length, will it still remain viable and competitive? If a compromise must be made, give away Fox Point to residential development.

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