Today’s Providence Journal has an excellent editorial about the pressures working waterfronts across the country are facing from residential developers pushing for condos and marinas. The problem is straightforward. Once you allow valuable port waterfront to be developed for condos, you’ll never get it back for marine industrial uses that benefit the entire region. Or as Frank Mahady of FXM Associates notes, “Once you’ve been a pickle, you can never be a cucumber again.”

Those hoping to cash in on glitzy condo and marina development have called Providence’s gritty working waterfront hazardous and obsolete, studded with industrial “dinosaurs” that take up too much space for too few jobs. But that, of course, ignores what ports mean to a region’s economy.

While yet another condo development and marina might produce more property-tax revenue per square foot than port businesses, this option must be weighed against the region’s needs for hundreds of high-paying, highly skilled blue-collar jobs, thousands of spin-off and support jobs, and a steady supply of fuel and other goods at less-than-crippling prices.

The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, formed to protect the port, maintains that the waterfront is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity in the region. Some 2,000 ships move over 9 million tons of cargo through the port each year. If politicians were to throw away these benefits to please developers, the entire region would feel the loss.

And there’s more to a waterfront than its economic impact. The port has been part of the fabric of Providence for hundreds of years.

It can all disappear in a flash if politicians sell out to developers, speakers warned.

“Once it’s converted, you never get it back,” said Martin Moynihan, executive director of the Port of Richmond.

Or, as Francis Mahady of FXM Associates put it, a little more colorfully: “Once you’ve been a pickle, you can never be a cucumber again.”

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