He’s helped build neighborhoods, businesses for 30 years

Posted 1/25/24

Bill Facente smiles a lot. He’s easy to talk with and makes things seem everything is going to work out.

It’s made him an effective economic and community development officer over …

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He’s helped build neighborhoods, businesses for 30 years


Bill Facente smiles a lot. He’s easy to talk with and makes things seem everything is going to work out.

It’s made him an effective economic and community development officer over his nearly 30-year tenure with the City of Warwick. He has worked in both departments and most recently serves as director of community development, a job that has become especially active with the influx of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in the wake of the pandemic.

Facente didn’t want a retirement party Friday, but his colleagues in City Hall and the City Hall Annex paid no heed. Spearheaded by folks in the Planning Department in an adjoining office, boxes of pizza and cases of soda appeared shortly after noon.

There was a bit of a scramble to find a table and when that didn’t happen, Facente cleared the tops of adjoining filing cabinets. People grabbed paper plates and napkins including Mayor Frank Picozzi. It was casual, with no speeches, although those present agreed to a group photo between bites. Individually, people congratulated Facente on his new post with Providence Community Development. He leaves Warwick Jan. 31 and starts in Providence barely a week later.

Facente, who grew up in Lincoln and attended URI, connected with Warwick as an intern quite by accident. Pursuing a degree in environmental management and economics he attended a “Bring Back the Bay” show at the Warwick Mall. A friend asked him to check out summer intern possibilities and Facente came up with one in Warwick with the Department of Economic Development headed by the late Walter Richardson. When his friend didn’t follow up, Facente did. That summer Richardson, who was working with Karen Jedson, had Facente conduct a face-to-face survey of Warwick businesses on Jefferson Boulevard to assess what the city might do to improve the business environment. He conducted about 100 interviews. He had planted his roots in government although some city workers couldn’t believe he hadn’t landed the post through political connections.

He bounced between the Economic and Community Development Departments.  Facente has worked for six mayors — starting with Chafee in 1994, Gerry Gibbons (who as Council President assumed the post when Chafee was appointed to complete the U.S. Senate term of his late father), John Chafee, Scott Avedisian, Joseph Solomon and now Picozzi.

While playing his economic development role, after the Small Business Administration was named court-appointed receiver for the bankrupt  Rocky Point, Facente, recalls picking up a multi-millionaire  at Green Airport who was interested in acquiring the shuttered amusement park. The possible buyer and housing developer was impressed by the site, but evidently not by its accessibility.

Facente said the man found the trip from Providence too long and wanted to know if the state would consider building a monorail to Warwick Neck. Facente laughs at the recollection knowing how well that would have gone over with Warwick Neck homeowners, as well as the neighborhoods on the way.

Knows the neighborhoods

Facente knows Warwick neighborhoods and its nonprofits, not just professionally but also as a participant.

He, his wife Monyn and their sons — one is a sophomore at Pilgrim and the other has enlisted in the U.S. Army and awaits assignment — live in Lakewood. Facente imagined his commute from Lincoln would be greatly reduced living in Warwick. But that wasn’t always the case. At the time, Route 295 was far less congested than it is today and while miles farther away, it was often faster to get to Lincoln. He thought of pedaling but dismissed biking given speeding Warwick motorists and he explored taking the bus. His research found it would take him more than two hours to get from his home to City Hall. He relented, using his car like most Warwick residents.

Reflecting on his work in economic development, Facente cites the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant Heff Jones, the manufacturer of class rings, built on a former Ciba Geighy site and brownfield next to the Pawtuxet River. Providence was in competition to lure the manufacturing operation. Facente outlined the permitting process and worked to ensure utility connections as well as access to get the jobs here and bring the economic spinoff it would have on area businesses. Among other projects he worked on were a Citizens Bank on Post Road prior to the development of a Wal-Mart, Metro Center office developments and what he remembers as the most protracted project — the redevelopment of the Pontiac Mills, which took multiple owners and decades to complete.

In the role of community development director, Facente was faced with the allocation of CDBG (federal community development block grant) funds targeted to low income neighborhoods as established by the U.S. Census. When the program started, the city received about $2 million annually; now it is barely $1 million.

“That’s a good thing,” says Facente, although the funds have been reduced, and, as he points out, a million dollars today doesn’t go far.

When the program started seven or eight neighborhoods qualified for CDBG money and now it’s only a few, yet community investments continue through a cobbling together of other grants from state and federal sources as well as some municipal funds. Project funding is also stretched over a period of years.

Just some of the work accomplished includes new sidewalks, streetscape improvements in Apponaug, Conimicut, Norwood and Oakland Beach with plantings and period lighting, assistance programs and grants for businesses to enhance storefronts. Neighborhood playground improvements have stepped up with the designation of $200,000 in ARPA funds to each member of the City Council. Facente takes satisfaction in seeing kids playing basketball on what was once a decrepit court or excitedly using the newly installed and refurbished playground equipment at Clegg Field in Conimicut or across from City Hall. Now that it is in construction, he’s anxious for the opening of the Oakland Beach splash pad in time for this summer, as well as for work to start on Padula Square in East Natick.

“It gives people a sense of place and they take care of it,” he said of community projects.

Pride in Community

What he finds especially rewarding is the pride residents take in their neighborhoods and how that translates into stronger communities. He sees grants and government oversight of the programs as a means with the drive coming from the neighborhoods and neighborhood associations. He starts listing neighborhood associations and some of their advocates including Carol Pratt and Jeff Gofton in Apponaug, Ginny Barham in Conimicut, Ed Hrabcsak in Pontiac and Councilwoman Donna Travis, Beverlee Sturdahl , Sister Marge and Ron Bergeron in Oakland Beach before realizing there are so many that he’s afraid he can’t list them all.

Facente is active in the community as a member of the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs board, the Elizabeth Buffam Chace board, Ocean State Center for Independent Living, Habitat for Humanity West Bay and having been a member of the Warwick Rotary Club.

A passion and one that he imagined he would have plenty of time for following retirement is scuba diving. He hasn’t done much of it lately and diving in Rhode Island is cold and dark. He much prefers the clear waters of the Keys, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. He longs to take dives in other parts of the world.

His dream upon retirement was to open a dive and training shop in Florida. Then, as he points out, other things came along including marriage, kids and a house. The dream still flickers, but for the moment the focus is on working with  a department of 11 fulltime employees and Providence neighborhood visionaries and activists. He’s proven he can do deep dives and come up with remarkable rewards in Warwick. Now he’s looking to do that for Providence.


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