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I-195 commission set for Senate approval

The Senate Corporations Committee approved Gov. Lincoln Chafee's '75 P'14 nominations to the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission at its hearing yesterday, green-lighting the roster for a vote by the full Senate Thursday.

Colin Kane, principal of the development firm Peregrine Group LLC, will serve as chairman of the commission. The committee approved six other commission members: Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biotechnology Barrett Bready '99 MD'03, Women and Infants Hospital nurse Barbara Hunger, art consultant Diana Johnson MA'71, President and CEO of Meeting Street School John Kelly, Principal at the law firm Moses and Afonso Mark Ryan and CEO of a Rhode Island non-profit Michael Van Leesten.

State Sen. Bethany Moura, R-Cumberland and Lincoln, submitted the only ‘nay' vote of the afternoon against Hunger.

"Making sure talented people are working in collaboration is very important as we go forward," Chafee said at the hearing. "All these nominees share the common goal of bringing economic revitalization to the state of Rhode Island."

Hunger, Kelly and Ryan were also on Providence Mayor Angel Taveras' list of nominees.

"This is an extraordinary opportunity for our city, for our state, for our region," Taveras said at the hearing in support of Chafee's plan for the commission. "The idea of the commission and the way that it's come together is something that's going to benefit us for months and years to come."

"I am an average, concerned citizen," said Hunger to the committee. "What I am not is a city planner, a developer or a businesswoman."

Many of the other nominees could lay claim to such titles.

Kane will bring his experience in real estate development to the chairman position. "Institutional capital that came here during the last cycle got smoked," he said. "We need to convince these groups that we have a growing economy and a predictable approval process."

Kane was particularly insistent about the importance of structured parking to the development of the district. "If we don't invest in structured parking, this area is worthless," he said.

Bready, president and CEO of the biotech company NABsys, said he would like to see life sciences and biotechnology investment in the area. "While it may be difficult to see with the instability of the current global markets, we are actually on the edge of the next technology-fueled boom," he said. "I can explain to companies considering looking here what the advantages are."

Bready assured the committee that his volunteer position at Brown and the University's interest in the Jewelry District would not create a conflict of interest.

Johnson, former director of the David Winton Bell Gallery, will bring her expertise in the areas of art and business to the project.

Kelly has focused his legal career in corporate and real estate law and previously held the position of chair of the Providence zoning board. "Consolidating and reducing the permit process" will be important for attracting investors to the area, he said. An important role of the commission will be "identifying who we want and what we're doing from a policy standpoint to attract them," he added.

State Sen. Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence and North Providence, endorsed Ryan as "one of the foremost authorities in zoning and planning."

Van Leesten, CEO of OIC of Rhode Island, is distinguished by his experience in volunteerism and his awareness of Rhode Island's major social issues. "Our state is going through some changes," he said, noting that Rhode Island's African American and Hispanic communities are expanding dramatically while the white population is declining. The commission needs to "figure out how to move and make decisions while the world is moving so rapidly," he said.

Once the commission begins work, it will be important to manage expectations for substantive results, Kane said. "Tower cranes don't go up tomorrow."


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