Metro

Brown eyes purchase of former highway land

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Editor’s Note: This story contains material similar to text that appeared in other published work. An Editor’s Note was published in the Nov. 13, 2009, Herald. That Editor’s Note can be found here.

 

The University will have the opportunity to acquire up to 36 acres of land in Providence in coming years, according to a report released last week by the governor’s office, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and the city.

The report, “Rhode Island Interstate 195 Relocation Surplus Land: Redevelopment and Marketing Analysis,” cited the University as a potential buyer of new lands that will be opened as part of the state’s ongoing “Iway” project to relocate the junction of I-95 and I-195 downtown. The Iway project will be complete and the reclaimed land will be ready for use by the end of 2012, according to the Department of Transportation Web site.

Prepared by a team of consultants, the report identified more than 20 parcels of land that will be made available for sale. The parcels comprise 36 acres of newly cleared land in the Jewelry District, Old Harbor, Fox Point and College Hill, according to a press release from the Department of Transportation.

The state’s Economic Development Corporation will manage the disposition, or sale, of the land, according to the release.

The report highlighted three objectives that officials hope will come from the re-use of the land: increased tax revenue, economic development — which will draw industries and jobs to the area — and urban revitalization.

The report pointed to both Brown and Johnson and Wales University as prospective buyers of the land, suggesting that allowing the institutions to expand would support a “knowledge-based” economy in the area.

The University has already expressed interest in purchasing many of the parcels, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to President Ruth Simmons, in an interview Wednesday.

“Brown has had an interest in this area for some time,” he said. “When the study was underway and the consultants were going around and talking to people, we said we would definitely be interested.”

Spies added that the University has taken a particular interest in property in the city’s Jewelry District, where the University already owns—and plans to renovate—an existing building for use by the Alpert Medical School.

“We identified some parcels that are most adjacent to the property we already owned,” he explained.

But Spies added that the University’s interest in the land is not necessarily related to an expansion of the Med School.

“It is a space where the University can expand, that’s valuable to the University over time,” he said of the area. “What would actually happen there would depend on the needs and opportunities as they arise over time.”

And in light of the University’s current financial situation — many previously planned construction projects have been modified, postponed and in some cases cancelled — Spies said the Corporation and other University officials would be obligated to seriously consider the costs of acquiring the additional land.

“Those constraints are very real,” he said of the University’s finances. “It would certainly be part of the discussion, and those are issues we will have to wrestle with if and when we get to that point.”

Spies pointed out that, though discussions about land acquisition are ongoing, no definitive decisions have been made about any of the parcels.

“It is yet to be determined whether we will acquire any of that property at all,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

But despite these unknowns, Spies said there is reason to be optimistic about the possibility of purchasing the land.

“If we were to go forward, it really would be an investment in the future,” he said. “The hurdle is real, but I think there’s reason to be optimistic.”