Imagine a private enterprise with the resources to make multimillion dollar investments on very high-profile parcels of land.
Also imagine this private enterprise is a nonprofit, so that whatever new property it purchases and develops will likely not be taxable to a standard commercial level.
And finally imagine that this enterprise is completely mum on what its plans are.
Well, of course you don’t have to imagine this scenario at all. Consider Brown University and the land freed up by the relocation of Interstate 195 in Providence.
Having already invested millions of dollars in the former Jewelry District adjacent to the I-195 land, Brown has telegraphed its interest in the “new” land for a number of years. But today it says there are no plans for the land, an answer that strains credulity.
It is true that Brown is in a transitional period as it welcomes Christina Hull Paxon as the new president. She should take some time to create her own vision for where the university wants to go.
But Brown now employs more than 1,000 people in the nascent Knowledge District, and in negotiations with Providence for a new payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal late last year and early this year, it was clear the school had its eyes on more parcels in the former I-195 corridor.
It is understood that Brown must serve the interests of the university first, but given the high-profile nature of the institution and its special tax status, it also has a responsibility to be open with the public. And the latter is especially true when it comes to the future of land controlled by a state commission. •
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