Station district ‘hip, happening’ says Chafee
Governor Lincoln Chafee, calling the state “hip, happening” used two developments to throw the spotlight yesterday on the Warwick Station Development District as the happening place for private development and growth.
The district, along with the Providence Knowledge District, is at the top of the governor’s economic development initiatives to be announced later this month by the state’s Economic Development Corporation.
EDC director Keith Stokes said that unlike Providence, where the state owns the land, development of the Warwick district hinges on the private sector seeing the opportunity, which the state aims to promote through a $350,000 marketing plan, and a significant development that will set the pace for the future of the district.
“Leviton is a catalytic property, we need to focus on that,” Stokes said of the former manufacturing facility on Jefferson Boulevard. The Leviton site, which is for sale, consists of 75 acres including its commanding feature, the red brick Elizabeth Mill building. Stokes said the state investment at the airport, the Interlink and the highway system and the confluence of air, rail and highway transportation gives the district “a mature density of intermodal transportation.”
It was yellow bricks, not red bricks, that landowner and developer Joseph Piscopio said is most needed at this point. Piscopio was one of several business leaders invited to attend a press conference at the car rental end of the Interlink as the Department of Transportation highlighted a live time transportation board, costing $300,000, that will assist those arriving in the state to select a mode of transportation once here. The occasion was also used to tout a feature article on the Delta Sky Magazine, “Rhode Island roots of innovation” that quotes the governor extensively along with Stokes, David Sylvestre, director of corporate communications at Textron and other business and education leaders.
Piscopio was among the first to recognize the potential for development from linking the airport and the railroad. He bought the former Malleable Iron property and built the Hilton Garden Inn when the Interlink was still a dream.
Yesterday Piscopio walked from hotel to the Interlink and promptly was lost.
“”I still have a problem getting in here, it’s so confusing. They ought to have a yellow brick road,” he said.
Chafee called it a good idea, suggesting the yellow line be used to direct people how to navigate the parking garage and connect to the skywalk leading them to the airport terminal. While navigating the Interlink could be improved, Chafee focused on the proximity of the airport to Amtrak and the confluence of transportation modes that make it so attractive for development.
Referring to a lot visible from the Interlink filled with abandoned New England Lemonade trucks Chafee said, “I don’t think that is the best and highest use.” He envisions a “business center” similar to that at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where people would fly in for business conferences and the like.
Citing the Delta magazine with a reported readership of 15 million Chafee said, “we’re here to celebrate a variety of good things.”
In addition to the traveler information board with its live videos of highway traffic across the state, DOT director Michael Lewis said his department is “pleased to work in partnership” with the city and state and “break down the silos” to foster economic development. He disclosed that MBTA ridership is about 200 daily and is close to reaching projections much faster than initially projected. With the addition of the Wickford Junction rail stop projected to happen this April, Lewis expects ridership to keep climbing.
Rhode Island Airport Corporation CEO Kevin Dillon, alluding to possible additional service at Green Airport, likewise painted a rosy forecast.
“We see great things happening for us in the future,” he said.
Mayor Scott Avedisian used the phrase “a number of good things” to note that the city and state have won a $900,000 federal grant to develop the infrastructure of the station district. The district, he said, has the potential of 1.5 million square feet of retail, residential, office and hotel development. Also, he noted how the governor has made it a priority.
Using a $350,000 federal grant it has applied for, Stokes said the EDC would compile an inventory of properties in the district and develop a brand for the district as well as a business marketing plan. He said EDC would take an “organic approach” to the area’s development rather than attempting to impose a specific plan.
He said the EDC is looking to augment the process with legislation directed at promoting the private sector growth. He did not detail what that legislation might be. In addition to the Knowledge District and the station district, Stokes said his top list of development hubs includes 200 acres of Navy land on Aquidneck Island to be turned over to the state.