Providence Council postpones final approval on controversial ProvPort deals

THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL on Thursday postponed a final decision on 30-year extensions to the city's tax and lease agreements with ProvPort Inc., sending the agreements back to the finance committee for further review. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – The new City Council postponed final decisions on tax and lease agreements with ProvPort Inc. on Thursday, opting to send the proposals back to the Committee on Finance for further review.

The delay comes after the council gave first passage to the deals in December. However, seven of the 15 council members have changed since that first vote was taken due to the November election, and several of the new members previously said they wanted more time to discuss the proposals.

The agreements would extend by 30 years ProvPort Inc.’s control of the 135-acre swath of portside land, laying out a revenue-sharing agreement in lieu of annual property tax payments to the city and authorizing the Providence Redevelopment Agency to issue bonds for portside capital improvement and expansion projects. (ProvPort, a holding company, bought the land for $16.4 million in 1994 but has since leased it to the city-controlled Providence Redevelopment Agency, which in turn issues tax-free bonds to pay the city and then sublease the land back to ProvPort.)

The proposals drew criticism from community residents and environmental advocates, who slammed the prior group of officials for “ramming” the deals through in their final weeks in office. There were also concerns that the agreements were too vague, with critics contending they lacked necessary details about the types of businesses that can occupy the port and did not specifically require compliance with the city’s separate Climate Justice plan.

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The versions of the agreements given preliminary approval in December sought to incorporate this feedback, with amendments banning fossil fuel expansion at ProvPort and defining the types of community projects that will be funded through a portion of the tax revenue, among other changes.

The council’s vote Thursday to send the deals back to the finance committee came swiftly and without discussion. 

As initially approved, the new tax treaty increases the percentage of port profits paid to the city from 5% to 9%, including specific allocations reserved for sustainability and neighborhood needs. According to Nicholas Hemond, the attorney for Waterson Terminal Services, which manages the port, ProvPort will pay $840,000 in the first year of the new agreement, instead of the $769,000 it would pay in property taxes owed based on its current assessed value.

Meanwhile, the 30-year lease extension aims to pave the way for a planned $11 million in capital improvements and expansion, to be paid for through new bonds issued by the Providence Redevelopment Agency. The bond money will also help ProvPort develop a master plan outlining its future growth and expansion plans, which in turn will let it tap into the massive amounts of federal infrastructure and renewable energy funding recently made available, Hemond said previously.

The finance committee meeting to review the agreements had not been scheduled as of Thursday. If the extensions are approved, the tax and lease agreements would stand until 2052.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at

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  1. Glad to see the new Council questioning this.
    This doesn’t make sense for the taxpayers. If you read this carefully: ProvPort (which is run by the Waterson family which owns Waterson Terminal Services which manages the port) owns the land and leases this land to the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) which in turn issues tax-free bonds to pay the city and then subleases the same land back to ProvPort.
    Sounds like the PRA issues taxpayer backed bonds to A) make the payments (in lieu of property taxes) to PVD on behalf of ProvPort and B) to make the land lease payments to ProvPort.
    Sounds like taxpayers are floating bonds to pay PVD (i.e., themselves) property taxes that ProvPort should be paying.
    Hopefully, the new City Council Members will be smart enough to vote against this Ponzi scheme.