Gadfly cites gentrification concern on Promenade plan


UPDATE: Comment from Durkee.

Steve Durkee e-mailed me a short time ago, saying he hadn't received my e-mail until recently due to an e-mail problem. Here's what he had to say in response to my question.

I am aware of this item on the CPC agenda. We are being asked to provide the CC with an opinion as to whether the proposed TIF, which will be primarily for the ALCO site and surrounding streets, conforms to the city’s Comp Plan. I intend to chair the meeting but will not be participating in the vote. Seems best not to.


When I wrote another in a series of stories about Providence's gentrification wars a few years back, it attracted positive feedback from two people who typically come from clashing positions on such issues -- gadfly Judith Reilly and architect Steve Durkee.

Now, according to Reilly, the City Plan Commission (which is chaired by Durkee) is due to consider at 4:45 pm today a "Promenade Center" redevelopment project plan and tax increment financing (TIF) plan, and she is asking the CPC to delay any action on the plan.

Asked about her concerns, Reilly wrote to me in an e-mail:

The TIF plan contains code words that we've all heard before. Looks like we're heading for more evictions of artists from "unsafe" and "illegal" buildings, in order to make the world safe for democracy, or at least for shiny, happy condos, "River Walks," and suburbanites.

City officials and others hailed recently announced plans by United Natural Foods to move jobs to Struever Brothers' American Locomotive project, but Reilly remains skeptical. As she wrote to me:

[C]learly this [Promendade] TIF was timed to be proposed right after the United Natural Foods announcement. Part of the TIF money goes to subsidize rents at ALCO. I don't call that economic development. Also, as I'm sure you're aware, those 150 jobs moving to Providence from Dayville, CT are already filled. I certainly doubt many of those people will quit and make their spots available for Rhode Islanders. I think those folks will just commute from Connecticut or wherever. The 90 additional jobs mentioned in the press releases are part of a "strategic plan" - not guaranteed by any means.

Yesterday, I sent Durkee, whose firm is the architect for Struever Brothers' ALCO project, an e-mail, asking whether he will be participating in today's CPC meeting, I will post his response if and when he responds.

To some, Struever Brothers represents much-needed investment in Providence, a city in desperate need of a stronger tax base.

Reilly and other critics view the issue differently. Here's part of an e-mail she sent to city planner Chris Ise. She asked him to share it with CPC members.

Dear City Plan Commission Members:

I am writing to urge you to delay any action on the "Promenade Center" redevelopment project plan and TIF plan, for the following reasons:

1. To my knowledge, you have not acted to approve or disapprove the Olneyville/Valley/Smith Hill Neighborhood Plan which was presented to you in August, and the TIF area lies within the Valley and Smith Hill neighborhoods.

2. The Redevelopment/TIF Plan violates the draft Neighborhood Plan in a number of areas listed below (and maybe more).

3. Perhaps because massive public disapproval killed the Downtown TIF plan two years ago, the "Promenade Center" plan seems to have been deliberately developed in secret, and sprung upon an unsuspecting public last Thursday (10/16). Although I have more research to do, and am awaiting receipt of public records I requested, I suspect that the Providence Redevelopment Agency may have violated the Open Meetings Act by holding discussions of the "Promenade Center" plan in executive session. I think this matter needs to be fully investigated.

4. At this point in time, I have seen no evidence that anyone other than Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse was involved in planning this "redevelopment" and TIF. If the other businesses in the area and the neighborhood residents were indeed left out of the process, that was very, very wrong, and it looks bad that your Chairman is Struever’s architect.

5. No details of the "affordable housing" piece of the plan have been made public as yet, so it can not be determined if this part of the plan conforms with the Interim Comprehensive Plan. Perhaps you have been given those details, but the public has not.

6. While the letter of the law may not require it, I believe you are ethically bound to hold a public hearing on this matter. Many of us who have seen the (rather skimpy) plan are very concerned that once again the Mayor and the Planning Department are trying to drive out industry in favor of condos, offices, and retail. We have seen what happens when cities attempt to build a "New Economy" on real estate taxes. This plan looks very much like it will result merely in moving office jobs from place to place, rather than creating new jobs for Rhode Islanders. It also looks like it will encourage more polluting car travel and use of precious land for parking, and will contribute nothing to the green jobs revolution that so many voices call for.

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