State solicits private developers for downtown transit hub proposal

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE on Thursday announced plans to seek interested private developers to partner with the state on a new, indoor transit center to replace the bus depot at Kennedy Plaza. Pictured is a rendering of the project. /COURTESY OF UNION STUDIO ARCHITECTURE AND COMMUNITY DESIGN

PROVIDENCE – The proposal to open a new, indoor transit hub on the edge of the I-195 Redevelopment District is finally advancing from vision to reality, with a state solicitation for private developers, Gov. Daniel J. McKee announced on Thursday.

The request for “expressions of interest” on the Dorrance Street Transit Center marks the first concrete action state government and transit officials have taken on the project, which would replace the existing bus depot at Kennedy Plaza. 

“The Dorrance Street Transit Center is one more important part of our commitment to restore and revitalize downtown Providence while we create the best possible transit experience for riders,” McKee said in a statement. “This initiative is part of our larger vision for Providence, and our state, that includes our efforts to breathe new life into the Superman building. Rhode Island has the momentum – we’re committed to keeping it going.”

The proposed $77 million project – to be funded through a public-private partnership – calls for a five-story building, including an indoor transit center and administrative offices for the R.I. Public Transit Authority, along with retail, parking and affordable housing. 

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Earlier this year, RIPTA held a series of virtual and in-person public information sessions, soliciting community feedback and suggestions. The agency has made its case for why it believes the Dorrance Street indoor transit hub is a better option to Kennedy Plaza, allowing for future growth and shielding riders from the elements of an outdoor bus depot. 

“We are excited to be taking this first official step toward creating a state-of-the-art transit center that our passengers deserve,” Scott Avedisian, RIPTA CEO said in a statement. “The Dorrance Street Transit Center will dramatically improve the passenger experience in downtown Providence, while also accommodating for a growing transit system.”

Some riders remain skeptical and have advocated for keeping the hub at Kennedy Plaza.

The project has garnered support from business and community organizations and downtown developers, many of whom protested a prior transit plan that would have broken up the central bus hub across three locations.

Several other iterations of a revamped downtown bus hub have surfaced over the last decade, though none have come to fruition.

The solicitation request published Thursday is intended to gauge “initial industry interest” from private developers, according to the release, with responses to help RIPTA plan and carry out the project development. Responses to the request are due back to RIPTA by June 20, with plans to start a “competitive procurement” in September, according to the timeline in the release. The procurement would seek a single developer to sign on to a joint agreement with the state to design, build, finance and operate the transit center, with RIPTA owning the land and the developer running the non-RIPTA portion of the facility through a lease agreement, the release stated.

The expected $77 million price tag will be paid for in part through a $35 million bond approved by voters in 2014. How much of the remainder will come from private developers, or other state and federal funds, has not been determined.

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

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