ECONOMIC ENGINE: From left, Pawtucket Foundation Executive Director Aaron Hertzberg, Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien and city Planning Director Barney Heath at a 7.4-acre Division Street lot targeted for redevelopment.
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
BUILDING INTEREST: A slowly improving economy has helped revive riverfront redevelopment plans in Pawtucket and neighboring Central Falls. The above map shows seven areas along the river corridor targeted for a mix of commercial and residential development.
Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series looking at efforts to preserve and revitalize the state’s downtown areas.
Swapping rusted, green steel for the colorful lights and Art Deco-shapes of Pawtucket’s new Interstate 95 Bridge has given city leaders a boost of confidence that other neglected parts of their riverfront can be improved.
A central focus of Pawtucket and neighboring Central Falls for more than a decade, riverfront redevelopment slowed during the recession, giving local officials the chance to study, plan and prioritize for the recovery.
Now that the economy appears headed in the right direction, some of those plans are being put into motion, starting with the area directly within the glow of the bridge’s new $300,000 light system.
“I don’t think anyone realized how beautiful the [bridge] undercarriage with the lighting scheme would be,” said Aaron Hertzberg, executive director of the Pawtucket Foundation, which has helped finance and organize riverfront economic-development efforts. “It is pretty impressive, and now we are regrouping to see how to take advantage of that.”
The Seekonk and Blackstone rivers wind through downtown Pawtucket and have formed the traditional backbone of both cities’ industrial and commercial bases. By revitalizing the waterfront corridor, city leaders hope to bring activity to their central business districts and jobs to nearby residential areas.
Just south of the new I-95 bridge, Division Street has become a center of redevelopment activity.
At a former tire shop at 21 Division St. on the banks of the river, Womens Care, a group of doctors affiliated with Women & Infants Hospital, has started work to create a new medical office.
Next door, Pawtucket is taking another stab at redeveloping 45 Division St., a 7.4-acre vacant lot that used to host a General Motors dealership and was donated to the city.
An earlier city effort to redevelop the property focused exclusively on building a hotel there, but the winning bid from Carpionato Group stalled when the market collapsed and the city took back control of the land.
A hotel is no longer required and the city is open to a mixed-use project with apartments above first-floor shops.