ALONG THE WATERFRONT: William Fazioli, chairman of the East Providence Waterfront Commission, says the group’s biggest accomplishment has been spurring “private interest in a tremendous asset.” That include the previously dormant BP and Chevron sites.
(Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series exploring the progress of East Providence’s 10-year effort to redevelop its waterfront and what it might mean for a similar effort underway in Providence.)
By the end of the 20th century one of East Providence’s greatest assets, roughly 300 acres of ship-and rail-accessible, industrial land along the Providence and Seekonk rivers, had become one of its biggest liabilities.
The factories and fuel depots that once thrived along the waterfront were struggling, shut down or gone, in many cases leaving decades of chemical contamination in the soil.
Looking to the future, city leaders saw growth potential in technology, retailing and condominiums and wanted to find a way to reposition their fallow industrial land to take advantage of those markets. But it wasn’t going to be easy. With so many engineering, regulatory, infrastructure and environmental challenges, private developers eyed the area warily despite its saltwater views and proximity to downtown Providence.
So with other large, multipiece redevelopment projects in mind, such as the Capital Center in Providence and the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, East Providence created its own state-supported, special-planning entity to manage development within the waterfront district. With enabling legislation put forward by then-state Senate President William V. Irons, who lived in the city’s Rumford neighborhood, the East Providence Waterfront District Commission was created in the summer of 2003 and soon completed a master plan for the 7-mile coastline.
In pitching the plan, city officials estimated that waterfront redevelopment would add 2 million square feet of new commercial space, 2,500 new homes and $1 billion to the tax base in 10 years.
Now a decade later, the commission has seen significant progress in some areas of the waterfront, although it hasn’t come close to matching those early plans.
Of the total 300 acres in the district, approximately 55 acres have been redeveloped so far in six separate projects. That acreage would more than double, to 117 acres, if two large residential projects, Kettle Point and Village on the Waterfront, now planned and permitted off Veterans Memorial Parkway, are built.