What started as a strategy to help save the vacant Industrial Trust Building in Providence is now part of the statewide debate over how to redevelop the city’s former Interstate 195 land.
In April, an ad hoc economic-development task force of Providence business and community leaders, assembled by the City Council responding to the plight of the downtown tower known as the Superman Building, recommended an overhaul of the city’s property-tax treaty program for large development projects.
The idea, which would take approval of “tax stabilization agreements” out of the hands of elected officials, went nowhere with the council or with Mayor Angel Taveras’ administration.
But now City Council President Michael Solomon has brought the plan back as part of his mayoral campaign and pitched it as part of the solution to generating demand for the I-195 land.
The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, which is marketing the 19-acre developable strip of state-owned property it calls The Link, thinks he’s on to something.
“I saw it, and I did a back flip coming out of my chair,” said 195 Commission Chairman Colin Kane about the Solomon proposal. “It is terrific. We have been talking for some time about something like that. Having prescriptive tax treatment with the city is as important as wetlands or other permitting. It is really one of the key economic components of underwriting.”
Whether the proposal has any chance of going into effect, however, may depend on whether Solomon wins the upcoming mayoral election.
There is no sign his fellow councilors have warmed to the idea any more than the current mayor.
“Our position is we are looking at tax stabilizations as they are coming through,” said Providence Economic Development Director James Bennett in a phone interview last week.
Under fire for spotty monitoring, opacity and inconsistency from project to project, the city’s tax-stabilization program at times this year looked like it may not be available for future projects at all.
City officials reached an impasse with some developers seeking new or extended deals and Councilor Sabina Matos proposed a 2014 moratorium on new stabilizations in order to revamp the system.
The debate added a layer of uncertainty for developers looking at The Link, just as the commission was trying to attract its first round of proposals for the land, Kane said.
Since the early spring, however, the pipeline of tax deals has begun moving again, with four tax stabilizations approved or nearly approved in the past two months. They include deals for the Kinsley Building, Foundry, South Street Landing and CharterCare.