When a majority of the City Council came together to vote “Yes” for a zoning change that would allow a new $300-million development to go forward in our city, generating an estimated $4 million in annual tax revenues, it was an important sign that we understood the need to move Providence forward.
For too long, the city has been seen as fostering an anti-development culture. Instead of looking at economic development opportunities as a chance to get things done and generate vital revenue for Providence, some city officials appear to be more interested in imposing unreasonable demands on those who are willing to invest in the city. The fact is, we should be welcoming those who see promise in Providence and are willing to spend money to do business here.
It’s no secret that our city faces significant challenges, among them staggering pension liabilities that threaten to plunge us into possible bankruptcy. Many of the city’s schools are struggling and we received word this week that Rhode Island’s schools as a whole are underperforming, with a Dec. 2 Providence Journal editorial noting that “Rhode Island’s public education system is woefully bad” and that the situation “presents a direct threat to the state’s chances of rebuilding its economy.”
The disturbing results of the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment raised a serious alarm. We are lagging behind Massachusetts, because our neighbors to the north made a commitment to improving their schools as part of a broad approach to economic development and job growth. We can do the same, but the only way to get on the road to making that kind of meaningful, sustained commitment is to take advantage of significant opportunities when they present themselves. That is how we get on a path to making things better.
In this environment, rejecting a proposal like the Hope Point Tower is not just reckless and irresponsible — it does a disservice to our taxpayers. It ignores the need to get things moving in our city, to show some signs of progress with the I-195 redevelopment zone, an area that was created for the expressed purpose of generating new development and jobs. But it isn’t just about reshaping our city’s skyline … it’s about sending a message that Providence is serious about getting its economy on track and taking the bold action necessary to revitalize our city.
The Providence Journal implored Mayor Jorge Elorza not to stand in the way of this project. The speaker of the House and Senate president rightly called on him to act and reminded him that this was a chance to change the perception that the city was “mired in the same bureaucratic delays and barriers that have held it back in the past.” And the City Council gave him the chance to green-light this vital project and create a new sense of energy in Providence.
Unfortunately, the mayor missed an opportunity to lead. I hope my colleagues on the City Council will come together to recognize that our city deserves better. We need to take action now to change the culture and show that Providence can effectively promote and support economic development. We can do it as part of a comprehensive approach to building a strong community where businesses and individuals work in concert to help rebuild our schools, create affordable housing opportunities and make this a vibrant city that is a destination for those seeking a strong quality of life.
It starts with vision, the ability to see that a zoning change can represent a change in attitude, a shift in perspective, and a willingness to do things differently. By letting the Hope Point Tower go forward, we can finally begin to make good on the promise of the I-195 redevelopment zone, approving a signature project that will spark further development, while creating desperately-needed jobs and generating essential tax revenue.
*Originally published by The Providence Journal on December 4, 2018