October 31, 2014
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This Side Up
Looking down on what it can be

Remember climbing a tree as a kid?

Maybe your dad got you to the first branch, lifting you under the arms to that point where it already seemed precariously high. The trunk was solid and you clung to it for support. But after a moment, perhaps with some encouraging words from below, you realized you were quite safe. You weren’t going to fall.

It was only then that I remember thinking I could go higher. The next branch was within easy reach and the nub of a smaller limb offered the perfect foothold to reach it. And so the ascent started, pulling upward and pushing off from holds below, sometimes with the toe of a sneaker wedged in a tight crotch between trunk and branch.

And when you got to 20 feet it seemed very high. The branches weren’t so big up there. While solid, you could feel the trunk sway and there was a feeling of fear. What if the branch I’m on cracked? Would I find the same holds on the way down?

Then there was lure of climbing further. Maybe you could make it another five feet. And for what?

Part of it was to know you did it, to overcome the apprehension. Part of it was to tell others you had done it. Part of it was to see what everything looked like from up there.

Being up high – not being high, which is an all-together different thing – offers so much. It’s the vantage from which words become vision.

I remember taking the elevator to the top floor of the airport garage for a press conference with then-Senator Lincoln Chafee. He had done this before and it always worked. From a windy corner of the building, we looked out at the easily identifiable Knight Campus of CCRI. There was the red brick of Elizabeth Mill, now Leviton Manufacturing, and the swath of lines and right of way that is Amtrak.

Linc pointed out that, at about 1,500 feet, this was the shortest span between an airport and Amtrak in the country. You could see it. It didn’t take much to imagine making the connection. The concept was so much more real from that height than standing on the sidewalk on Post Road and looking one way or the next, or even looking at an architect’s rendering.

Of course, getting from vision to reality is not always easy. In the case of the Interlink, it took years and about $267 million. Now that it is here, it has become the “branch” from which to view the future and to reach higher.

Governor Chafee did that last Wednesday, at another news conference, and this time it was from the rental car end of the Interlink. Ostensibly, the occasion was to celebrate a highly complimentary article on Rhode Island featured in the current edition of the Delta Airlines “Sky” magazine, with a reported readership of 14 million and the installation of a $300,000 high-tech transportation board to be used by those arriving at the state. But this was also a time to look into the future, and Linc did just that.

Using sarcasm, something that I don’t remember him doing, he questioned whether a lot, just beside the Interlink, filled with rusting New England Lemonade trucks is the “highest and best use” for the property. He didn’t leave his audience to guess what could replace the trucks and the random collection of businesses and single story buildings in the shadow of the Interlink. He spoke of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and its nearby hotels, offices and conference facilities and how, with the confluence of rail, air and highway, such development is possible here. It’s not a new vision. It’s been talked about for more than a decade but, looking from the glass enclosure of the skywalk, it seems much more possible now. A $900,000 federal grant will assist with planning and creating of that district, and the Economic Development Corporation realistically hopes to win a $350,000 grant to market the district, attracting the company or companies that will go out on the limb to make the dream come true. Some, like Joseph Piscopio and Michael D’Ambra, have already done that. Piscopio built the Hilton Garden Inn and D’Ambra has the plans and the zoning for a major office-hotel development on the eight acres along Jefferson Boulevard, now the site for his construction company and asphalt plant.

An additional step is expected to occur tomorrow when the council gives second passage to the Warwick Station District master plan.

Can it happen this time?

It would seem like everything is aligned, or it could be.

The Interlink is there; the MBTA trains are running; a master plan is completed; the governor has made it a priority and even the economy is showing signs of improving.

Maybe this time we can climb to new heights.


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