Sweeping visions of hotels, shops and restaurants lining Providence’s industrial waterfront appear dead following the sale of the Promet Marine Services ship-repair yard on Allens Avenue to an international scrap-metal recycler.
Pulling back from the broad rezoning plans pushed by past mayors to allow a wide range of commercial and residential uses along Allens Avenue, city officials now plan to release a scaled-back rezoning proposal that would add only office space to the waterfront mix.
“I think the energy [for rezoning] has left the room – people are much more concerned about what may or not happen” with land freed up by the rerouting of Interstate 195 through the city, said Providence City Councilor Luis Aponte, who represents Ward 10 and has supported waterfront rezoning. “I still think it should be part of the plan, although I don’t know how attractive it will be with scrap there.”
City Council President Michael Solomon, an opponent of earlier plans to remake the working waterfront with parks, condominiums and entertainment, said he expects a new plan with “minor” zoning changes to be released to the council in the next two weeks.
“I think right now everyone is in agreement there should be minor changes,” Solomon said. “There will probably be some office space involved. No condominiums, restaurants, shops or hotels.”
Spurring development on Allens Avenue, which is now home to a mix of marine industrial businesses, auto-repair yards and strip clubs, has been an objective in City Hall going back several mayors.
In the colorful renderings of “Providence 2020,” a plan commissioned by then-Mayor David N. Cicilline and released in 2005, the same blocks now home to the bankrupt Providence Piers and the new Sims Metal Management scrap yard were filled with throngs of visitors to waterfront parks, a riverwalk, hotels and residential towers.
But as they have in cities up and down the coast, efforts to trigger investment by easing waterfront zoning restrictions to allow a wide mix of uses, including shops, hotels, restaurants and residential development, have run into strong opposition from existing property owners who worry those uses will eventually squeeze out their businesses.
Unlike his predecessors, Mayor Angel Taveras has hailed Allens Avenue’s industrial sector and supports the plan scheduled to be introduced to the City Plan Commission Nov. 15 that would keep nearly the entire waterfront industrial.
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