(Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series exploring the progress of East Providence’s 10-year effort to redevelop its waterfront and what it might mean for a similar effort underway in Providence.)
If the buzz of activity along Veterans Memorial Parkway signals progress in the redevelopment of the East Providence waterfront, the dusty vacant lot at the former Ocean State Steel mill in Phillipsdale shows the long road ahead.
Before there was an East Providence Waterfront District Commission, there were plans to clean up the contaminated mill site and turn it into a mixed-use village of loft apartments, shops and offices.
Unfortunately, the project, called East Pointe, fell apart with the collapse of the real estate market, becoming a cautionary tale of the challenges in reusing old industrial sites and potential pitfalls of complex public-private partnerships.
For the last four years, the city and GeoNova Development Co. LLC have been fighting in court over who now owns the 27-acre Ocean State Steel property.
The property is cleaned up to residential standards, but $5 million in federal tax dollars have been spent without producing any vertical construction.
This summer a judge ruled against the city’s motion to dismiss the case and ordered both sides into mediation to see if they can come to an arrangement to avoid trial.
“There was a lot of excitement around Phillipsdale and the brownfield at Ocean State Steel,” said Colin Kane, principal of the Peregrine Group, which developed the Ross Commons condominium complex across the street from the Ocean State Steel site. “They spent a lot of time getting permitting, but just hit bad market conditions. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen there.”
However the GeoNova land dispute is resolved, looking ahead at the next 10 years of waterfront redevelopment in East Providence, the northern section of shoreline that includes the GeoNova site, between Interstate 195 and the Pawtucket line, shapes up to be the biggest challenge for the commission.