Could a cruise ship dock revitalize the waterfront?

The way Patrick Conley sees it, his and his wife Gail’s new development could be the beginning of a “mini-Baltimore,” right here in Providence.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Allens Avenue Sept. 22, Patrick and Gail Conley unveiled the latest project aimed at boosting Rhode Island’s tourism industry: their 776-foot Dock Conley. The $7 million project, which adds a stopping point for cruise ships to the Providence Piers, will be host to American Cruise Lines under a five-year agreement also announced last month.

Patrick Conley – a Rhode Island historian who purchased the property at tax sale – said that by bringing an influx of visitors into the city, it could help Providence to experience a renaissance in an area largely ignored during the city’s recent transformation. Namely, the waterfront.

Other major cities along the East Coast – including Atlanta and Baltimore – have been able to take advantage of their waterfronts, Conley noted.

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Now, he said, with the attention Dock Conley will bring to the area, and the investment being undertaken across the harbor in East Providence by developers including Picerne Real Estate Group, Rhode Island’s capital city has an opportunity to change that.
“We’ve done a lot in the inner harbor, but nothing beyond the inner harbor,” Conley said. “Blue is green – water is money.”

Also included in the Conleys’ development is a $2 million, three-story building that will host a function center on the top floor and 11 artist studios below. Conley said that he and his wife had decided to include artist spaces in the building because artists generally help spur economic activity.

As for the clientele coming to the dock, American Cruise Lines CEO Charles Robertson said his ships are expected to host travelers from 47 states and 27 countries. More than 2,000 hotel room nights are expected to be generated in the next year because of the dock, he added.

In addition, Conley said, people who travel on cruise lines are generally affluent tourists, and once docked, will be able to spend money on upscale restaurants and area hotels.

At the Dock Conley announcement ceremony, state and city leaders spoke of the project’s potential.

Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline touted the benefits of the cruise ships’ arrival in the city, saying that new sector of tourism will provide a boon to the local economy.

“It will have a huge impact,” he said. “It will bring many, many people to Providence and to Providence businesses.”

For now, three American Cruise line ships will be using Dock Conley – the American Eagle and the American Glory, which hold 49 passengers apiece, and the 100-passenger American Spirit. The company is building two other ships that will utilize the dock; one of them, the American Star, is slated to be completed in May 2007.

Robertson said American Cruise Lines was proud to be able to include Dock Conley in its list of ports – and adding that the new dock might just be the nicest where their cruises stop. “You’ve done a tremendous job here,” Robertson said.

This summer, Dock Conley hosted a Latin-themed cruise trial by the Bay Queen. According to Chaffee Communications, which is running publicity for the Conleys, Bay Queen also plans to add cruises from the dock next season.

In addition, the dock is home to both the R.I. Public Transportation Authority high-speed ferry to Newport and the Providence Piers tour boat.

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