I-195 Commission votes to keep Link proposals confidential
THE I-195 COMMISSION voted Monday night to keep developers' preliminary proposals for The Link confidential until the two sides have signed a letter of intent. The first deadline for proposals is May 1. Above, a rendering of a proposed pedestrian walkway between two office buildings on Clifford Street in The Link "developer's toolkit," released by the commission in February.
PROVIDENCE – The public may never know what proposals the Interstate 195 Redevelopment District Commission turns down for the 20 acres of former highway land under its control, known as The Link.
The quasi-public commission voted unanimously on Monday, April 21, to keep all preliminary proposals confidential and only reveal the identity of prospective developers after the two sides have signed a “letter of intent” to negotiate exclusively.
Until that point, the commission intends to reveal only the aggregate number of bids for the land and how many total square feet of commercial and residential space have been proposed.
The decision to keep bids secret was prompted by concerns from prospective bidders and the I-195 Commission’s broker, Jones Lang LaSalle, that public disclosure would drive away interest, said Commission Executive Director Jan Brodie.
“It doesn’t help anyone to know who second place is,” Brodie said. “We will get proposals not robust enough to make a good decision.”
At the April 21 meeting, Commissioner Mark Ryan wondered how, as a practical matter, the identity of applicants could be kept secret while still exploring the various state and city incentives likely to be a part of most major deals.
But despite some concerns over appearing less than transparent with state assets, commissioners decided their primary obligation was to encourage the best offers possible.
Under the framework approved on April 21, the letter of intent signed between the commission and a potential developer would be non-binding and give both sides approximately 60 days to work toward a formal sales agreement, said I-195 Commission attorney Chip Rogers.
Brodie said even when the winning bidder is made public, financial details and any mutually agreed upon “proprietary” information would remain confidential.
On Thursday, April 24, following public criticism of the I-195 Commission vote, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee issued a statement saying that he supported the board’s work and that the state is “striving to strike the proper balance between the public’s right to know and the success of a project that is vital to Rhode Island.”
Chafee continued, “It is our job to create an environment where we can obtain bids from the best companies to ensure the delivery of successful, quality ventures.”
The first deadline for development proposals for The Link is May 1.
Brodie said while there are no proposals in hand, she has spoken to about 20 interested parties and expects between four and 12 applications by May 1. The next rolling deadline for proposals is Aug. 1.
In other developments, the commission voted to write letters of support for keeping funding for state historic tax credits in next year’s budget, and for R.I. Department of Transportation grant applications for constructing a transit hub at the Providence Train Station and widening Interstate 95 at the Providence Viaduct.
Commissioners noted that none of the projects directly involved The Link and that the Viaduct project would be competing directly for federal funding with the Providence Streetcar, for which the I-195 Commission is also writing a letter of support.
Still, the endorsements were unanimous.
“At some point we might be sending a grant application in and looking for support,” said Commissioner John Kelly.