Differences between Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown and the former Interstate 195 land in Providence are easy to find. For starters, unlike the elevated highway, most Rhode Islanders didn’t want to see the Navy go.
But there are also clear similarities between the two areas: both include prime real estate that passed from federal to state ownership, and both are seen as potential regional job generators.
Now with Quonset being considered one of Rhode Island’s bigger economic success stories, the commission charged with redeveloping the vacated Iway parcels is hoping to learn from the two-plus decades of work that went into building Quonset.
“Since they formed the [Quonset Development Corporation], it has been a great success story,” said Colin Kane, chairman of the I-195 District Commission. “My schedule has been clobbered, but I have it on my list to sit down with [QDC Executive Director] Steven King and talk about the lessons learned from Quonset.”
At the top of the things Kane sees translating from the bayside suburban expanse of the former Navy base to Providence’s proposed “Knowledge District” is a streamlined and expedited permitting system that Quonset has put in place with North Kingstown.
The system means that before they start talking with interested companies about a parcel in the park, Quonset officials lay out a basic pre-permitted building footprint that a prospective buyer could begin work on within 90 days.
“They have taken on the responsibility, as would a private developer, of bringing the permitting to a certain state, so when someone comes in, a lot of the regulatory guesswork has already been completed by Quonset,” Kane said.
The I-195 land’s location tucked within an active, urban environment makes it unlikely the Knowledge District will have the same level of permitting flexibility Quonset enjoys in North Kingstown, but there is expected to be some streamlining.
Another similarity between the redevelopment of the Knowledge District and Quonset is the sizable public infrastructure investment needed to transform them into productive areas for business.
The investment in Quonset over the years includes more than $100 million in federal funding, including a $22.3 million TIGER stimulus grant, while moving I-195 already has cost $623 million in state and federal funds.