Today’s Providence Journal has an opinion editorial by Providence Working Waterfront Alliance founding members Sprague Energy, Promet Marine, and Narragansett Improvement about the city’s failed mixed-use vision for Allens Ave:

In June 2000, then-Mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. held an event to unveil his grand “New Cities” urban renewal plan for future development in Providence. Rolled out to great fanfare, the plan envisioned a new “Narragansett Landing” neighborhood along Allens Avenue’s historically industrial harbor front. The plan included beautiful drawings of waterfront promenades, residences, hotels, and marinas. Completely absent however, was any depiction of the area’s existing oil tanks, barges, cargo tankers or industrial businesses.

Indeed, these industrial businesses were explicitly not part of the plan and were to be wiped off of the face of the waterfront. As The Journal reported at the time, “he [Mayor Cianci] . . . said he hopes to sweep away a boatyard, an asphalt plant, oil and gas storage tanks and industrial docks to make room for hundreds of apartments with their own boat slips, 3 hotels, 12 office buildings, and a 40-acre marina with space for 500 boats.”

Ironically, almost 10 years after the unveiling of the Narragansett Landing plan, it is the city’s mixed-use vision that has failed, not the gritty industrial businesses located along Allens Avenue’s working waterfront in the Port of Providence. The area’s only announced mixed-use project, the proposed $300 million Providence Piers condo, hotel, and marina development, is now in foreclosure and the subject of ongoing litigation.

In stark contrast, despite facing the threat of condemnation, eminent domain, and being zoned out of existence, the area’s water-dependent and industrial businesses are not only still stubbornly on the avenue, they are thriving. According to the June 2008 economic impact study, just seven water-dependent, water-enhanced industrial businesses along Allens Avenue are responsible for $294 million in annual business sales, employ 372 workers with an average compensation of approximately $60,000 per year, and have a total annual economic impact of $324 million.

With a 40-foot, federally dredged channel, a strategic location between Boston and New York City, and excellent rail and highway access, the Allens Avenue corridor is poised for continued success. With the proper zoning in place and a commitment to promote this unique industrial asset, Providence’s working waterfront is sure to grow and create new good paying jobs.

Hotels can be built anywhere. We need a waterfront that works.

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