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Conley touts a facelift for Allens Avenue waterfront

Buddy Cianci should feel somewhat vindicated. The former mayor’s Three Cities Plan — targeting underutilized areas of Providence for major redevelopment — is coming to fruition in ways that once seemed unlikely. There’s the redevelopment of the Promenade district, the stretch of old mill buildings behind the Providence Place Mall, and talk of reconnecting the downtown and West Side halves of Westminster Street. But what about remaking the industrial stretch of waterfront along Allens Avenue into a bourgeois residential playground called "Narragansett Landing"?

Patrick Conley, lawyer, developer, and scholar of Rhode Island history, is hoping to add the last scenario to the list. Right now, the stretch between Eddy Street and Thurbers Avenue, home to several industrial businesses and a few strip-clubs, is otherwise littered with asphalt, dirt pits, and oil tank farms. But Conley is at the early stages of what he says will be a $110 million-$120 million, 11-acre redevelopment project.

He envisions a 130-suite extended stay hotel topped with several floors of million-dollar residential condos; a multi-story parking garage with 800 to 1000 spaces (Conley says the exact number depends on interest from nearby Rhode Island Hospital, which will lose much of its parking to the I-195 relocation); a 400-slip marina with "dockaminiums"; docking facilities for cruise ships; and, possibly, a stop for the Newport ferry.

One element of the project, the renovation of the former Providence Teaming Company building, a four-story, 45,000-square-foot Conley-owned mill building on the site, is nearly complete. Under a five-year, $6-per-square foot agreement, the bottom three floors of the 1899-era structure, the oldest surviving building on the outer harbor, will be master-leased to the Partnership for Creative Industrial Space, which, in turn, will make it available as artists’ work space. The top floor will be reserved for an upscale seafood restaurant, Patrick’s Pier One, to be managed by Conley’s wife, Gail, and a conference center for nonprofits run by the Rhode Island Publications Society.

Conley says plans for the hotel and condos remain in the "embryonic stage," and that he is "wide open to potential partners." Asked how such stuff will compete with other new condos and luxury apartments in Providence, he says, "Count the number of condos on the water. These will be the only ones on the outer harbor of Providence. They’ll have a view of the skyline. They’ll have a great view down the bay. No other condo in Providence will have that kind of a setting and that kind of a vista. All those other condos pale to insignificance to a waterfront condo." Conley says he expects more development to follow along the waterfront, saying, "It’s a natural."

But other land and business owners on Allens Avenue, including Sprague Corporation, which ships bulk products like liquid asphalt and road salt, and the Promet Marine Services ship repair yard, may not share Conley’s vision. Peter Gerry, owner of Pete’s Tire Barn, which operates an adjacent specialty retail store and repair facility, says he believes the city is discouraging industrial usage of the area. "I don’t think the city wants anything like us," Gerry says. "But they don’t understand that someone still has to haul away the rubber, and fix the tires on the fire trucks. They’re discouraging and chasing manufacturing out of the community." Gerry says he has no plans to relocate his facility. He declines to comment on whether Conley offered to buy his property, saying only, "Conley is trying to buy everything he can around there."

Thom Deller, Providence’s director of Planning & Development, says Conley has not yet formally approached the city with his plan, but that "any development along Allens Ave. that helps clean up the environmental problems and rehabs property and makes space for artists is good." However, Deller adds that the city has a more extensive vision for the area. It has hired Watertown, Massachusetts-based urban planning consultants Sasaki Corporation to develop a plan that will consider the city’s industrial areas, and Deller says, "Try to tie them all together to work as one unified piece."

"An 800-car lot is nice," Deller says. "But [among other things] we need to increase our tax base. From that point of view, what I’ve heard so far is barely scratching the surface of the potential for the area."

Issue Date: April 8 - 14, 2005
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