The death by veto of a bill empowering the Providence Redevelopment Agency to construct new buildings “is not going to stop us” from helping Brown University revive the former South Street Power Station, according to Providence Economic Development Director James Bennett.
In fact, Bennett said the PRA already has the authority the bill set out to give it, and the legislative action was merely intended to clarify some murky language dating back to the 1960s.
“We believe it can,” Bennett said about whether the PRA can build new buildings, as well as rehabilitate old ones, under state law. “This was meant to clarify issues, but we can still move forward.”
The bill emerged days after Brown and developer Commonwealth Ventures LLC announced plans to transform the abandoned former power station into an academic complex to share with a University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College advanced nursing school.
The suddenness of the plan’s release in June was due in part to the approaching end of the General Assembly session. The PRA bill was joined in the frantic crush of end-of-session legislating by another bill authorizing the state to negotiate a long-term lease in the new $206 million complex, which would include offices, shops and student apartments.
Both bills passed the General Assembly only for the PRA bill to be vetoed by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee two weeks later.
Neither the city, nor Brown, spoke in favor of the PRA bill when it appeared in committee or in front of the House and Senate, but obliquely cited the power-station project as the driver behind the bill.
In addition to the main buildings, the power station plan includes a 600-space parking garage to be built on private land on the south side of Point Street that Commonwealth and Brown asked the city to build.
The state law that created municipal redevelopment agencies in each Rhode Island community says “nothing contained in this chapter authorizes an agency to construct any new buildings for residential, commercial, or industrial uses contemplated by the redevelopment plan.”
The PRA bill looked to counter that by adding that any redevelopment agency in a city with more than 100,000 residents “shall be permitted to construct new buildings.” Providence is the only municipality in the state with a population greater than 100,000.