The Providence City Council Committee on Finance approved the proposed memorandum of understanding between the city of Providence and four universities — Brown, Johnson and Wales University, Providence College and the Rhode Island School of Design — and a memorandum of agreement between the city and Brown at a meeting Thursday evening.
The proposed voluntary payment agreements will now move to the full City Council for a vote, though portions of the memorandum of agreement, which includes multiple property transfers from Providence to Brown, will require additional approvals. If approved, the two agreements would generate over $223 million for the city over the next 20 years, with the University paying an average of $8.7 million to Providence each year.
The Thursday vote approved both the MOU and MOA 2-1, with Councilor Miguel Sanchez voting in opposition while Acting Committee Chair James Taylor and Council Sue Anderbois voted for the agreement. Councilor Helen Anthony, the chair of the committee, was not present at the meeting.
The decision follows a public hearing Tuesday evening in which student activists spoke in opposition to the memoranda, The Herald previously reported. Other Providence community members, such as small business owners, also attended the hearing, with some voicing support for the proposed agreements along with city officials.
“If we try to seek more, these institutions can just walk away,” said Taylor, prior to voting on the MOU.
Sanchez, who voted against both agreements, said there are remaining “questions that haven’t been answered” about the proposed MOU.
Councilwoman Shelly Peterson, who is not a member of the committee, noted that the MOU could prove restrictive: “If we move forward with this as-is … it limits us for 20 years,” she said at the meeting.
“We are extremely disappointed by Councilman Taylor and (Councilwoman Anderbois’) decision to advance Brown’s manipulative PILOT agreements,” read a statement released by Sunrise Brown after the meeting.
“These agreements remain the single greatest opportunity for the City to regulate its most wealthy institutions until 2043,” the Sunrise statement read.
In a statement released after the meeting, Anderbois wrote that she “voted to allow (the agreement) to go to full council, without recommending passage.”
Anderbois added that she believes the other city councilors, many of whom have tax exempt institutions in their wards, should have “a right to discuss and vote. This vote was about not taking away rights from my colleagues.”
The University previously made voluntary payments to the city under two agreements: a 2003 memorandum of understanding and the 2012 memorandum of agreement, which expired in 2023 and 2022, respectively.
Provisions of the new agreements include a dollar-for-dollar match of direct payments with community contributions, a “Quality of Life” working group, city support of a handful of University property acquisitions and a “Credits Against Payments Condition” in which the University may reduce its annual voluntary MOA payments if it makes certain investments deemed to serve the public interest or assists certain development projects.
Negotiations for the new agreements began last winter, and several student demonstrations called for the University to increase its voluntary payments to Providence. This April, the Brown Activist Coalition demanded that Brown pay $15 million annually to Providence.
Neil Mehta is a University News section editor and design chief at The Herald. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.
Rhea Rasquinha is a Metro section editor covering the College Hill, Fox Point & the Jewelry District and Brown & Beyond beats. She also serves as an illustrator. She is a sophomore from New York studying Biomedical Engineering and loves dark chocolate and penguins.