Attractive fares; numerous direct flights to destinations across the country and to foreign locations; convenience and a welcoming environment once people arrive in Warwick are Green Airport amenities Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of The Rhode Island Airport Corporation talks about often.
He’s happy with the additional flights Green now offers and says they could make Green the fast growing airport in the country next year. But what are people going to see when they get here?
The environs of Green Airport are also on the minds of the mayor, tax assessor and the city planner.
Empty storefronts, weed-choked lots and fenced in cement lots don’t make for a welcome mat and, certainly for as long as the airport owns them, they don’t yield any taxes.
Ahmad said in an interview last Thursday he is working to not only to give those arriving at Green a positive first impression of Rhode Island, but also put tax dollars into the city’s coffers.
That’s refreshing news to Warwick officials who for years have complained how the airport is nibbling away at the city’s tax base as it takes homes and businesses to expand. It is also welcomed by Mayor Scott Avedisian and City Planner William DePasquale, who see RIAC land, especially the former LAZ Parking on Post Road, as integral to the overall development of City Centre.
RIAC bought the 6.5-acre parking lot, a residential neighborhood formerly known as Hillsgrove South, with the intent of eliminating a parking competitor. It is now marketing the property with an easement that prohibits its use as airport parking.
“Our job is economic development,” Ahmad said. “We are focusing on our city, making sure we are doing anything we can to drum up business.”
In addition to actively marketing the former LAZ lot, Ahmad said RIAC is working with Procaccianti Companies, which bought the former Atwood Grill property on Post Road, and is in the process of renovating the 192-room Comfort Inn for a direct connection between the airport terminal and the hotel.
According to a RIAC release issued last week, the hotel, temporarily branded as a Roadway Inn, is undergoing a substantial transformation to become one of the Marriott’s strongest brands: Fairfield Inn by Marriott.
In a statement Ralph V. Izzi Jr., vice president of corporate marketing & public affairs for the Procaccianti Companies said, “We are proud to expand our relationship with RIAC as it represents a true alignment of interests and our collective efforts are resulting in meaningful progress to strengthen economic growth in Warwick. We look forward to working closely with RIAC to the benefit of hotel guests and airport passengers alike.”
Ahmad said demolition and landscaping would be required to clean up some of the airport properties. He said he would look at airport properties along Main Avenue that were cleared of homes for business uses.
Redevelopment of the former site of the RIAC garage that featured the iconic geodesic dome on Airport Road by Enterprise Rent-A-Car was scheduled last year, but so far nothing has happened with the exception of the removal of the dome by a group looking to save it. Attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi, who represented Enterprise in the spring of 2016 during the zone change required of the project, said Tuesday that the project is still planned, but the cost of the initial proposal came in far over budget.
While City Tax Assessor Christopher Celeste acknowledged the airport has taken many properties off the tax rolls, he observed “it’s not a one sided thing.” Without the airport, Celeste said Warwick wouldn’t have the hotels that it does that generate property tax as well as hotel tax revenues for the city.
“It’s good that they’re doing that,” he said of efforts to market the LAZ property, “and it’s not helping them to hold on to it.”
In a statement Mayor Avedisian said, “It’s good to see property go back on the tax rolls and to be better utilized. Establishing better uses for a property is always good, and this redevelopment is a great indication of the partnership with the airport to look at what’s good for the future of the city.”
He goes on to say, “The resale of properties identified for redevelopment will return these parcels to our tax rolls – a significant goal identified in our Comprehensive Plan, and strongly supported by this administration. The sale of the Atwood Grill property to the Procaccianti Companies is a terrific first step. My administration looks forward to working with RIAC to ensure the continued success of the Airport and growth of City Centre Warwick.”
Highly visible areas, such as the corner of Airport Road and Post Road, which currently contain unsightly former storefronts, will be slated for demolition during the next six months, according to the release. Reuses of this particular area will be limited as it falls within the Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) for Runway 16. The removal of structures will be replaced with green space.
Other areas, located outside the RPZ along Post Road, will also have structures razed, where applicable, and viable reuse plans coordinated closely with the City of Warwick.
RIAC released the following list of properties and what is planned:
Airport property list:
561 Airport Road (Enterprise Rent-A-Car) – Currently in the design and planning phase.
1910 Post Road (Hotel) – Property to be utilized for hotel upgrade and additional development opportunities.
2119 Post Road (LAZ) – RIAC will market property in the coming months.
Slated for demolition
731 Airport Road – Located within RPZ, green space
747 Airport Road – Located within RPZ, green space
757 Airport Road – Located within RPZ, green space
14 Roseland Avenue – Located within RPZ, green space
22 Roseland Avenue – Located within RPZ, green space
2222 Post Road – Future use to be determined within Airport Master Plan
2282 Post Road – Future use to be determined within Airport Master Plan