Just when the fight for the future of the Providence waterfront seemed settled, a new battle has emerged on Allens Avenue.
No longer is the conflict over condominiums or luxury apartments. Now it’s the towering pile of scrap metal that towers over the long-debated and underutilized area.
As he has been before, lawyer, developer, and first-ever Rhode Island historian laureate Patrick Conley is in the middle of the controversy.
Conley believes that in stockpiling scrap in the giant heap next to his property, neighbor Sims Metal Management has damaged his historic commercial building, another belonging to Pete’s Tire Barns and city water mains.
The private-sector leader of an unsuccessful effort to bring mixed-use development to the industrial waterfront, Conley is suing Sims and has asked a federal court to shut down its Allens Avenue export terminal.
“It has been somewhat of a nightmare – their activities are inconveniencing other businesses and damaging city infrastructure,” Conley said about Sims’ Providence operation, which ships scrap metal collected throughout New England for overseas recycling. “That is why we are pursuing this vigorously. There is going to be no finality to the damage claims against Sims. It is an ongoing trespass.”
Of course, Conley’s dreams for Allens Avenue darkened even before Sims bought the former Promet Marine Services shipyard next door in October 2011.
He bought the Allens Avenue properties that would come to be known as Conley’s Wharf in 2005, with the hope that it would become the lynchpin of a mixed-use redevelopment of the waterfront supported by then-Mayor David N. Cicilline and outlined in the expansive Providence 2020 plan.
After completing a $7 million renovation of the 1899-built Providence Gas Company building at 200 Allens Avenue with state and federal historic tax credits, he started working on plans for a 320-room hotel and 400-slip marina.
But existing industrial businesses on Allens Avenue saw new shops, restaurants, condominiums, apartments and offices as a threat to the working waterfront and found allies on the Providence City Council.
The zoning change needed to allow mixed-use development on Allens Avenue never made it out of the council ordinance committee and Cicilline was replaced by Mayor Angel Taveras, who hailed Sims’ arrival as a blue-collar jobs creator.