Updated July 2 at 5:02pm

Finding path back to prosperity

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Ruarri J. Miller’s search for a site to build apartments for aspiring young businesspeople took him to old mills in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls. But ultimately Miller chose downtown Woonsocket, not just for its real estate, but for the enthusiasm and eagerness community leaders showed toward outside investment and his unconventional idea.

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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Finding path back to prosperity

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Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series looking at efforts to preserve and revitalize the state’s downtown areas.

Ruarri J. Miller’s search for a site to build apartments for aspiring young businesspeople took him to old mills in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls.

But ultimately Miller chose downtown Woonsocket, not just for its real estate, but for the enthusiasm and eagerness community leaders showed toward outside investment and his unconventional idea.

“The most appealing thing is the people who have rallied to support the project, people I wouldn’t have access to if it was somewhere else,” said Miller, who is currently lining up pieces and financing for The Apiary, a novel housing-continuing education-incubator concept. “It was really the Woonsocket natives who are coming back that is propelling it past the ideation stage.”

The eagerness to welcome outside investment in downtown Woonsocket, where the path back from the loss of heavy industry is as long as any mill town, has grown since the recession in public and private efforts to stem years of vacancy and neglect.

What’s less clear is how much progress these campaigns have actually made or how much residents should expect them to make in the immediate future.

In the nonprofit sector, a joint initiative between Neighborworks Blackstone River Valley and the Local Initiative Support Corp. has targeted resources toward Main Street.

In 2007, LISC’s Rhode Island office, which helps local community nonprofits finance and plan projects, began focusing efforts on Woonsocket and Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. Two years later, LISC upped that Woonsocket investment by funding a market study by national consultants of downtown that resulted in the “Main Street Livability Plan” that is now the city’s blueprint for the area.

“In Woonsocket, people really saw Main Street as both an opportunity and a weakness,” said Carrie Zaslow, program officer for LISC working on Woonsocket. “What we heard from residents is they really want to see something happening on Main Street. A lot of work has been done and people committed, but they were not completely sure about the way.”

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