Metro, News

Providence plans for Roger Williams Park Welcome Center

Ongoing efforts to redevelop neglected property stall as City works to secure funding

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2019

The shell of a property destroyed by fire has loomed outside Roger Williams Park for over a decade, but the city of Providence now has plans to redevelop the area. The city has acquired the land and plans to replace the building with a Welcome Center for the park.

The Welcome Center is slated to include amenities such as a bike share station, public restrooms and a place to buy tickets to Roger Williams Park attractions such as the zoo and planetarium, said Bonnie Nickerson executive director of the Providence Redevelopment Agency.

The project was originally scheduled to be completed by April 2019, but because of difficulties obtaining sufficient funding the project has no clear timeline for completion, Nickerson said.

The proposed Welcome Center has been difficult to launch since it is composed of three separate properties which “have been blighted and abandoned for over a decade,” Nickerson said. Since last summer, the city has attempted to obtain funding from Rhode Island Housing, which is “a privately funded public purpose corporation,” according to the organization’s website. The organization had money specifically “set aside for blighted and abandoned properties,” Nickerson said. At the time of the city’s application for funds, the city was working to use eminent domain to acquire the land on which the blighted properties are located but had not yet done so. One of the requirements for access to the fund was “site control at the time” of application, so the city was unable to secure the funds.

In December the City Council added the properties to an acquisition list, allowing the PRA to obtain them and once again seek funds from R.I. Housing to construct the planned Welcome Center amenities.

The Providence Parks Department and the Rhode Island Foundation are seeking the funds alongside the PRA, Nickerson said. Other secured funding sources include Providence’s community development block grant and the PRA, she added.

The project had wide community support at the time of application for funds last summer, with “letters of support from the local (Councillors) as well as neighborhood organizations and businesses,” Nickerson said.

Ward 9 Councilwoman Carmen Castillo, where the property is located, also voiced her support for the project, since “not only does it make Broad Street more beautiful, it also gives the public greater access to information about Roger Williams Park,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.

But some neighborhood businesses remain unaware of the city’s intentions for the property. “I don’t think anybody knows whatever they’re doing there; they haven’t put up no signs, no nothing,” said Jose Perez, the manager of Garcia Auto Glass. But Perez, whose business is located across the street from the area, is supportive of plans to alleviate the current blight.

Nickerson said that the city is committed to involving local businesses with the project in both the design and construction process and will be holding a design contest to engage the local community. “Very soon we will be putting out a call for local architects and designers to give us some proposals,” she said. They will also prioritize local contractors.

Sustainability is also an important part of the project, Nickerson said. For the design, the PRA is “putting in requirements for sustainable materials and building systems” and “perhaps looking at net zero building or other ideas,” she said.