Matt Jerzyk on Patrick Conley and the Providence Port
Matt Jerzyk has an interesting post on Patrick Conley’s attempt to develop (via rezoning) portions of Providence’s working waterfront. Matt respond’s to Conley’s recent op-ed refuting those of the Journal Editors and Edward Achorn:
The future of the area has been under a cloud since Buddy Cianci’s 1999 “Three Cities Plan” which prioritized mixed-use over industrial use. Due to a lack of clarity about future zoning, new water-dependent and industrial businesses have been reluctant to locate here. Despite this uncertainty, between 2004 and 2007 area businesses invested more than $30,000,000 in infrastructure improvements including pier upgrades and berth dredging….
The new jobs that would come with Conley’s luxury condo/hotel development would be low wage service jobs with little or no benefits. At the recent Charette, the city’s own economic consultant found that the area could sustain at most 200 condo units, priced from $300,000 – $500,000 that would produce minimal jobs. But if the city were to maintain the existing industrial zoning and promote port expansion, the area could attract 300 – 400 new high-wage jobs. Providence needs more good paying, living wage, middle class jobs, not more condos with low-wage jobs.
I don’t know enough about the history of Providence City politics to speak about Cianci’s plan or those of the current administration. What I do know is that Rhode Island has let too many of it’s natural maritime advantages fall by the wayside.
Conley–who’s also a historian–has a piece in today’s ProJo in which gives an interesting account of some of the ships that once sailed or steamed around Narragansett Bay and how most have either been lost or moved elsewhere. (Including the former ferry Newport that now serves as a restaurant–Dimillo’s–on the waterfront in downtown Portland, Maine. Good, if a little pricey, seafood by the way.)
What Conley wants is for RI to keep the USS Saratoga and a replica of the Sloop Providence in the Narragansett Bay for educational and, presumably, economic (tourism) reasons. As Conley says, “Clearly the Ocean State has squandered its maritime heritage.” I agree with him.
But part of that heritage is also having an actual working waterfront where the maritime industry can thrive. Heritage is more than history or nostalgia, it’s also carrying on the working traditions that have helped grow and sustain the state’s economy throughout the years. The sea is Rhode Island’s biggest natural resource. We should take advantage of it by developing and expanding ports (and the jobs they produce) in both Providence and Quonset. Zoning profitable maritime companies out of business is counterintuitive, counterproductive and unwise.