Wexford ceremony signals initial development of I-195 district

A rendering of the Wexford Innovation Center building./PBN PHOTO MARY MACDONALD
A RENDERING of the Wexford Innovation Center building./PBN PHOTO/ MARY MACDONALD

PROVIDENCE – A ceremonial groundbreaking on Monday signaled the beginning of construction of the Wexford Innovation Center, the first project to emerge in the state-controlled former Interstate 195 lands.

The Wexford project, which will total more than $88 million, includes an innovation building to be developed by Wexford Science & Technology LLC. The tenants will include the Cambridge Innovation Center, Brown University’s School of Professional Studies and Johnson & Johnson.

Construction is expected to begin soon and will continue for two years. The general contractor is Shawmut Design and Construction.

A groundbreaking ceremony attracted the full Rhode Island congressional delegation, state and city officials and representatives of several companies.

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James Berens, president and CEO of Wexford Science & Technology, said the three-year process to bring the project to fruition included some 70 meetings with local and state officials, and a host of negotiations aimed at securing tenants and bringing the cost of the building down to a point where it made sense for a smaller market, such as Providence.

“So, we’re finally here. It seems like we’ve been talking about this for a long time, and in fact we have,” he said. “… Creating innovation districts in a university environment, projects like this do take time. They are very difficult to do.”

The selection of anchor tenants in the 195,000-square-foot Innovation Building was critically important, he said.

“You want tenants who foster innovation, and who attract other innovators. At the end of the day, we’ve accomplished that.”

The building, to be located on Dyer Street, will include an Innovation Hall, and Venture Café, both modeled after the District Hall operated by the Cambridge Innovation Center in the Seaport district of Boston.

The $88 million building will receive about $18.8 million in state incentives from a fund set aside to encourage development of the I-195 district, and $13.5 million in Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits.

The building’s construction is expected to create 675 jobs, and lead to more than 800 direct and indirect jobs, according to a state release.

The project is part of the Phase I development proposed by the Wexford Science & Technology, of Baltimore, and CV Properties LLC, the latter a Boston-based company that is completing the development in Providence of South Street Landing.

The second project in Phase I is a hotel, to be located at the intersection of Dyer Street and Dorrance streets.

The I-195 lands were created when the federal government and state moved the former interstate highway, creating 19 acres of land. A parcel of the original land was sold to Johnson & Wales University, which built a computer science and engineering building, before the I-195 commission was formed.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said the initial projects on the land always were considered the most difficult. She described the Wexford development as a “transformational project” for Rhode Island.

“It is a symbol to the rest of the world that Rhode Island has momentum in this 21st century innovation economy,” she said.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com. Follow on Twitter at MaryF_MacDonald.