Since work began moving the old Interstate 195 from the path it cut through the city, conversations about the area’s future have often started with speculation about how much of the land the city’s main hospitals and universities will eventually fill. Over the last decade, Brown University, Johnson & Wales University and Rhode Island Hospital owner Lifespan have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on development projects in that part of the city, known as the Knowledge District.
While some would prefer to entice the next hot Internet company to move to the area, luring those kinds of companies is difficult, as is identifying them.
Still, from the beginning, the idea of an academic-research hub creating and drawing in entrepreneurial activity was at the core of the Knowledge District concept.
But teasing out the role of Providence’s colleges and hospitals in building out both the I-195 land and the larger Knowledge District has been slow going so far.
Johnson & Wales recently agreed to triple its voluntary payments to the city in order to buy two I-195 parcels it has long wanted for campus expansion and were reserved for the school in the law that created the I-195 District Commission.
However, Johnson & Wales is scaling back, at least initially, the 2008 master plan that called for a second campus quad in the district and 10 new buildings utilizing about 4 acres of I-195 land, in addition to property the school already owns. The two I-195 properties Johnson & Wales has reserved cover just more than 1.7 acres.
The deal with the city includes an additional payment in lieu of taxes that would kick in should Johnson & Wales buy a third and yet-undetermined I-195 parcel, but the school at this point has not decided whether it wants to pursue more land. Unlike the first two properties, a third would be subject to I-195 Redevelopment Commission approval.
Johnson & Wales spokeswoman Lisa Pelosi said the university is “revising” its master plan following the agreement with the city and expects to announce some changes in March.
Brown’s interest in the district has been even more closely followed and more complicated, since negotiations with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras over increased payments in lieu of taxes that the mayor tied to the university’s interest in I-195 land fell through this winter.