In an editorial in Sunday’s paper, the Providence Journal praises Mayor Angel Taveras and the City Council for adopting strong zoning protections for Providence’s working waterfront and nearby industrial businesses.

Port with potential

One of the precious assets of Rhode Island, with a marvelous capacity to help our economy grow, is Providence’s deepwater port. Various schemes have been proposed to turn it into a playground for developers, something that would ludicrously squander its potential. But Providence leaders in recent days have taken some historic steps to make sure that does not happen.

Mayor Angel Taveras has signed into law an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance to protect the waterfront as a working port, rather than permit it to be developed as condos, marinas and the like. Mr. Taveras, City Council President Michael Solomon and others worked hard to protect the working waterfront along the Allens Avenue corridor from the Hurricane Barrier to ProvPort.

“Hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs are based right here in the industrial waterfront of Providence,” the mayor said in a statement. “This amendment paves the way for the creation of more high-paying blue-collar jobs, brings the zoning ordinance into compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan, and sends a clear signal to companies worldwide that Providence is dedicated to supporting its industrial and working waterfront businesses.”

Many communities hungry for jobs would love to have the remarkable infrastructure that Providence has: a deep-water channel with rail and highway access. The port is responsible for an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in total economic impact for the region. Each year, more than 2,000 ships unload such materials as salt (to keep our roads safe in winter), cement, asphalt and home heating oil, and load up with recycled metal for international markets. Some 9 million tons of cargo pass through the port annually.

And the future looks brighter. With the expansion of the Panama Canal permitting bigger vessels to pass through to Eastern ports, Providence is well positioned for perhaps dramatic growth. Meanwhile, all three of the leading Democratic candidates for mayor — Mr. Solomon, Jorge Elorza and Brett Smiley — recognize the importance of expanding the port’s business and creating more good-paying, blue-collar jobs, with thousands of related jobs (tradesmen, truck drivers, service technicians, and the like).

Under the zoning changes, residential, hotel and other mixed uses that are inappropriate for this heavy industrial area are now prohibited. That should give businesses the confidence to invest in the port area and grow. It is the port, after all, with its deepwater channel and industrial zoning, that inspired Sims Metal Management to invest $70 million locating its export facility on Allens Avenue with a shredder facility in Johnston. Look for more in the years ahead, particularly if the next Rhode Island governor moves aggressively with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to create a more robust economy.

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