The Interstate 195 Commission has entered a new phase. Twenty months after the volunteer board was created by lawmakers to develop 17 parcels in downtown Providence, it hired its first permanent paid employee in May in Executive Director Jan Brodie.
Brodie followed the I-195 relocation project closely as a vice president of Armory Revival Co. in Providence between 2003 and 2008, developing projects such as the Bourne Mill apartment conversion in Tiverton and Pearl Street Lofts conversion in Providence. At the I-195 Commission, Brodie is charged with kicking the redevelopment into a higher gear than what’s been possible with only volunteers. With an MBA and architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania, the Mattapoisett resident hopes to balance the ideals of good design with the realities of development.
PBN: When did you first become aware that there might be an opportunity in the I-195 redevelopment for you?
BRODIE: Like others I saw it as an incredible opportunity, once in a lifetime. And when I was working in Providence I was aware of it, aware of discussions and curious to see how it would play itself out. When I was at The Community Builders in Boston, I kept my eyes and ears open and followed it. … When I heard that they were hiring an executive director I let them know I was interested and their headhunter reached out to me.
PBN: What’s your first priority as the I-195 executive director?
BRODIE: It’s a complex project and I understand there are a lot of stakeholders and a lot of eyes on it. I see this as an opportunity to bring lots of people together. I will start with meeting additional people, the neighborhood associations, universities and talking to each of the commissioners who have put so much work into the process. … The park design is still being revised and I would like to see what happens there as early as possible. I feel the I-195 identity needs to be created and given a real splash and a real idea out there of what it’s doing and what its hopes are.
PBN: How about parking?
BRODIE: Parking is going to require a number of different people’s involvement to come up with a solution to make sure surface parking is not the solution to the needs of great new companies to come, or new residents. That will include the planning department, [I-195] commissioners, neighborhood associations. We need to have solutions and need involvement early.
PBN: How is your role integrating with the commission?
BRODIE: I work for the commission and will take my lead from them. I view myself as being something of a vehicle or agent for change. I am doing nothing but this. The commissioners all have other jobs.
PBN: Do you see your arrival as accelerating the process from its current pace or is the pace dictated by too many other things anyway?
BRODIE: My sense is it is a little of both. The work that has been done since the commission was formed … is significant. They were big items: title, transfer of property, funding, environmental work. They have accomplished a lot. Going forward there are a lot of details and day-to-day activity and having someone dedicated to this so nothing will fall through the cracks.
PBN: Residential development versus office space has been a big discussion point here lately, especially with plans for the Superman Building. Do you have a sense of what the right balance is between residential and office development on the I-195 land?
BRODIE: My thoughts for this great opportunity are it is really about creating great spaces, great jobs, great places to live. It is about increasing the tax base and economic vitality, but that suggests you also want a great quality of life. I see this as a place people live, work and play. There’s life at night, activity during the day and it is at the center of this new Knowledge District.
PBN: Can residential development attract companies and jobs – opposite from the way we normally think of it with jobs first and then housing?
BRODIE: My sense is it can; it goes both ways. Companies are looking for places to run their businesses where their employees want to work. They look to strong schools, strong neighborhoods, quality housing, cost of living. In my view Rhode Island and Providence have all of that. … You can use housing to draw in businesses and then businesses can draw people in to want to be there. •