Providence was at a crossroads when I became mayor three and a half years ago. A $110 million structural budget deficit threatened our capital city with bankruptcy. Unemployment was far too high, private-sector investment too scarce and our housing market continued to suffer from the effects of America’s national recession.
I pledged to face Providence’s challenges with honesty and make the difficult decisions needed to improve our city. And we got to work. The work of saving Providence from bankruptcy and jump-starting economic development in our city has not been easy. It has taken tough choices and shared sacrifice.
We have made tremendous progress. We successfully averted bankruptcy. We have turned deficits into a slight budget surplus. And we are using all of our available resources to put people back to work and give businesses the tools they need to grow.
We are building a stronger economy by aligning qualified, skilled workers with businesses that are actively hiring employees here in Providence. In partnership with Cranston, we have hosted very popular job fairs focused on jobs in the manufacturing, hospitality, food, health care and retail sectors.
Infrastructure improvements are long-term investments in jobs and infrastructure that immediately improve the quality of life in our capital city. Providence’s voters overwhelmingly approved our road bond in 2012, and selected roads for repair using a merit-based analysis created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We covered a lot of ground last year and are working hard to complete the second season of Providence’s $40 million road-improvement project.
Last year, I called for a comprehensive update of the city’s zoning ordinance as part of my economic-development action plan, Putting Providence Back to Work. Amendments to the ordinance have been adopted over the past six decades, but a comprehensive overhaul has not been undertaken since 1951.
The zoning project has been a yearlong collaboration between city departments, residents, businesses and institutions to develop user-friendly zoning regulations that enhance the potential for economic growth in Providence.
We recently completed a draft of a new, streamlined zoning ordinance that supports Providence’s plans for economic growth and sustainable, transit-oriented development in a way that is consistent and easy to understand. Our work to modernize Providence’s zoning regulations will guide the course of development in the city for decades to come.
Providence is known for its diverse, historic neighborhoods anchored by small businesses. Earlier this year, we launched a new storefront-improvement grant program designed to attract customers to existing businesses, strengthen our neighborhood business districts and enhance the beauty and safety of our neighborhoods. Grants up to $10,000 are available to help business owners across our city pay for upgrades to their storefronts – including awnings, signs, windows, doors and landscaping.
Our vibrant arts community is an important engine of economic growth, helping to boost tourism and improve our quality of life in Providence. So this past spring we launched a new statewide arts calendar, ArtsNowRI. The website is a one-stop destination for residents and visitors looking for all that our city and state have to offer.
And as a result of our resolve to freeze the city’s commercial tax rate, Providence is no longer at the top of The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s list of cities with the highest commercial tax rates.
Providence is clearly heading in the right direction. Our city recently received top honors in two national rankings of the most livable and exciting cities in America. Our capital city was named the No. 1 Most Exciting Mid-Sized City in the United States by Movoto.com. And Providence was honored as the second-sbest downtown in the nation by Livability.com. We were the only New England city to make the list. These national recognitions reaffirm what Rhode Islanders have long known: Providence has among the very best quality of life of any city in America.
And it is getting easier to do business in our city. Development and construction projects are increasing. We are making key investments in our infrastructure. In our schools, more of our students are graduating. Crime remains near record lows.
Together, we have made great progress to build a future of lasting economic strength and prosperity in Rhode Island’s capital city.
Angel Taveras is mayor of Providence and a Democratic candidate for governor.