PRA is spurring rehabilitation projects

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

The agency marketing the largest portfolio of publicly owned Providence real estate? It’s not the Interstate 195 Redevelopment District Commission. More

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PRA is spurring rehabilitation projects

A NEW LIFE? Providence Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Don Gralnek at the vacant former Flynn School.

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 8/11/14

(Updated, Aug. 15, 11:444 a.m.)

The agency marketing the largest portfolio of publicly owned Providence real estate? It’s not the Interstate 195 Redevelopment District Commission.

Rather, it’s the Providence Redevelopment Agency, the city’s quasi-municipal real estate arm, which is playing a central, if largely under-the-radar, role in spurring new construction projects.

Last year, the agency returned from several years of relative inactivity by facilitating the rehabilitation of the George C. Arnold Building on Washington Street and working on the South Street Landing nursing academic-center project in the Knowledge District.

Now in almost every Providence neighborhood, other than the affluent East Side, the PRA, which controls nearly 100 acres citywide, is looking to turn underutilized land reclaimed by the city into productive, taxpaying assets.

Since last summer, it has been working to help a New York City group convert an old mill complex on Cromwell St. in the West End into 52 apartments and a culinary incubator called Rooms and Works. The PRA is subleasing a vacant lot owned by Rhode Island Housing at 36 Cromwell St. to the developer to use for parking.

And last week, the PRA began soliciting bids for the former Flynn School site at 220 Blackstone St. in Upper South Providence, which closed three years ago and has been deemed surplus.

Because of its proximity to the city’s hospital complex, PRA officials see a developer of medical space as the most likely fit.

But like the vast majority of PRA properties, the agency is not limiting itself to a particular kind of user and will sell the 3-acre property to the bid with the greatest value to the city.

That’s not necessarily the bid with the highest dollar value, although it’s a good bet it will be in most cases. Because the PRA is a quasi-government agency, it is not bound by city procurement laws and could look at broader economic considerations such as job creation or neighborhood impacts.

“The high bidder will most likely be in the health care space, but that doesn’t preclude mixed use, such as a hotel with retail,” said PRA Executive Director Don Gralnek about the Flynn School. “We are not constrained in any way.”

Although it doesn’t need to, Gralnek said the PRA will go through a public request-for-proposals process on the Flynn School to dispel any notions of insider dealing.

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