The opening of a March 2015 PBN story, titled “Why is it so hard to build in Providence?” sounds eerily familiar to those reading the beginning of this week’s cover story, “Can city speed development?”
The issue identified three and a half years ago in that story is nearly identical to what faces a developer today in Providence – too many competing regulatory agendas, creating the opposite of a transparent, predictable and encouraging process.
Rhode Island was given a major gift when the federal government decided it would move Interstate 195, giving Providence a chance to re-knit its urban fabric, add new waterfront land and in general build on the investments in downtown that started in the 1990s.
But between the effects of first, the Great Recession, and more recently, the thicket of state and local regulatory bodies and regimes, developers still feel stymied from investing in Providence.
Some might ask, aren’t there a number of cranes operating in the city? Yes, but how many more could be in place if the environment for investment were better?
The city is fortunate that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo created the Rebuild Rhode Island program that helps developers bridge the gap between cost and future revenue. And the city has improved its tax-stabilization agreement process, although it still can be made more user-friendly.
But until the state and its constituent parts sit down to create a unified and rational development process, Rhode Island, and most importantly, Providence, will not be able to take advantage fully of the opportunities that exist.