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I-195 commission developments continue after 11 years

Residents, business owners share mixed feelings

<p>There is some concern among folks that things have changed to be more residential,” meaning fewer jobs will be created with the developments, said Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15.</p>

There is some concern among folks that things have changed to be more residential,” meaning fewer jobs will be created with the developments, said Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15.

Eleven years after its formation, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission continues to develop several parcels of land previously occupied by Interstate 195 across Fox Point and the Jewelry District. Several projects have since been completed, whereas others — such as the Trader Joe’s on South Main St. and the pavilion for Innovation District Park downtown — are in the works. 

While community members and business owners feel some excitement about the projects, they also expressed concerns about the eventual economic and neighborhood impacts of the new developments.  

I-195 district commission updates

In the Providence Innovation and Design District’s Sept. 21 commission, Executive Director Caroline Skuncik gave a report on activities in the district. 

Trader Joe’s will open this fall in Parcel 6, Skuncik said. Developers and the commission “anticipate the grocery store will open while the rest of the project (in Parcel 6) continues to be under construction,” she added. 

Nakia Rohde, public relations manager at Trader Joe’s, said she could not comment about timeline and construction updates at this time. 

Urbanica, the developer of a separate project in Parcel 2, “continues to work on their due diligence” in Fox Point, Skuncik said. The development team will be on site over the next few weeks for technical testing, she added.

The day after the commission’s August meeting, the commission hosted an information session in the park for interested operators of the Innovation District Park Pavilion. 

The commission is working closely with the Pennrose team — the developer for Parcel 9, which is also just off South Main Street — on various legal dynamics and other considerations to close on the property by the end of the year, Skuncik said. Parcel 9 will include a childcare facility, according to Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15.

Planning and design for phase two of Parcel 9 has also begun, and both the design and content plans are in the works to be reviewed later this fall. 

The pavilion is “a proposed approximately 4,000 square foot amenity featuring year-round dining, public bathrooms and a small support space for park operations,” according to the Providence Innovation & Design District website. The project will also include infrastructure updates, including a Wi-Fi service and electrical updates in the park. 

There was “a lot of great interest in operating the facility,” Skuncik said. 

The commission is planning to hold another information session for vendors, along with an additional community event about design for the pavilion. “That will be an opportunity for the public to engage directly with Utile and with ARO,” the architect for the project, Skuncik said. The date of the community event is still being finalized and will be sent out via the district’s newsletter distribution.

There was also a presentation by D+P Real Estate and Truth Box Inc. regarding updates to proposed development for Parcels 8 and 8A, along with an urban design summary by Utile, after some residents had concerns with the project’s design and scale. D+P Real Estate and Truth Box Inc. are also developing a “mixed-use, mixed-income development” in Parcel 6 next to Trader Joe’s.

Downtown, mixed-use building Emblem 125 “received their temporary certificate of occupancy” at the end of the week of Sept. 12, Skuncik said. The project, which is on Parcel 28, includes 248 rental units and ground-floor retail space. According to Skuncik, the developers shared strong public interest in leasing, with some tenants already having moved into the building after the TCO was received.

Reactions in the community 

The 195 Commission meets “mixed reviews depending on who you ask”, said Goncalves. Some people think the project is falling short of expectations, while others are excited about the new housing developments, grocery store and childcare facility, he explained.  

“There have been some developments that have been more challenging for the greater community and immediate others in the neighborhood,” Goncalves said. Because of the massive scale of the project in Parcel 2, there were community concerns that the development might be too tall and block views. 

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In addition, “there is some concern among folks that things have changed to be more residential,” meaning fewer jobs will be created with the developments, Goncalves said. Some of the actual land sales have fallen short of projection, but with many acres still up for grabs, there is hope that development there will increase economic vibrancy, he added.

In Parcels 8/8A and 9, there are few to no immediate residential abutters, so the developments did not meet much opposition. The forthcoming childcare component in Parcel 9 is also “something that the community was excited about,” Goncalves said. 

People are looking forward to the upcoming Trader Joe’s in Parcel 6 and “having another organic (food) option in the neighborhood,” Goncalves said. The store plans to open in late October, as the team is still getting the store ready and hiring staff, he added. 

With Parcel 2, there were more seats at the table for community members to participate in the design review process, Goncalves said. We are “moving in a better direction,” he added, encouraging a continued effort to ensure that “the interests and needs of the community are being valued and listened to,” especially for forthcoming developments.  

The Pavilion faced outcry from local restaurant owners who were concerned that their businesses would be undercut. According to Goncalves, the commission plans to have additional input sessions with local restaurants and the local community. 

“One of the things that we’re constantly thinking about is making sure that whatever’s being proposed as an amenity is mindful of not disrupting what’s already positively happening” in terms of businesses operating in the area, Goncalves said. The goal is to avoid “a scenario where there’s undue competition that may hurt some of the existing businesses.”



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