One vision for new city
Johnston developer proposes commercial/residential hub including Ponte Vecchio-inspired bridge
By PAUL GRIMALDI JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
COURTESY OF THE CARPIONATO GROUP A rendering by Carpionato Group, looking south, shows a $254-million proposal on the edge of the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence.
Carpionato Group envisions a series of buildings and outdoor spaces including a hotel, town houses, a restaurant, research laboratories, three parking garages, shops and public spaces linked by pedestrian bridges — one a Ponte Vecchio-inspired span over Wickenden Street; the other a more utilitarian structure above South Water Street connecting a retail plaza to a park along the Providence River.
It would cost an estimated $254 million and would support the equivalent of 900 full-time jobs.
“This is a place people are going to want to hang out,” said Joe Pierik, a Carpionato executive.
Carpionato’s proposal is the first definitive commercial offering for land uncovered by the highway project, offering a cohesive development plan for nine lots totaling 8.4 acres stretching north from Our Lady of the Rosary Church at the base of Benefit Street to the historic Tilling-hast House at James and South Main streets.
Those nine lots are part of about 40 acres uncovered by the highway project, land that both public and private organizational leaders see as key to a revitalized Rhode Island economy. About half that acreage is available for redevelopment.
Governor Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras are among those eager to see that land become home to thriving science and technology entities.
The chairman of the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission, Colin Kane, said he believes the highway land on the east side of the river — with its proximity to the water and its main cross streets populated with shops — will be the first section redeveloped.
Carpionato Group is one of three developers that have expressed a formal interest in using a portion of the old highway land. All three have set their eyes on land east of the Providence River, straddling the intersection of Wickenden and South Main streets.
Two of the three developers, Carpionato and Providence-based Churchill & Banks, have presented their ideas to Kane’s commission.
Richard Baccari II, executive vice president of Churchill & Banks, said the company would like to develop two parcels along Tockwotton, Pike and South Water streets.
Baccari said Churchill & Banks already owns an adjacent property. The company’s plans for the parcels call for ground-floor retail and apartments on the upper floors.
The third is Hecht Development of Gloucester, Mass. The company owns 95 Chestnut St., which is adjacent to the old path of Route 195 in Providence. The building is home to the Betaspring business-accelerator program. Hecht postponed its recent presentation date.
Both Baccari and Hecht declined The Journal’s request for details regarding their proposals.
At least one university in the state is among the six entities the redevelopment commission has invited to provide informal presentations.
Universities have made little secret of their desire to play a role in the redevelopment effort, but thus far, only Johnson & Wales has committed to building on the strip of land snaking through the city’s center.
JWU purchased two misshapen parcels at the western end of the strip, allowing it to square off land it already owns. JWU is considering two academic buildings for the 1.7 acres, one for a business school and one for a school of technology.
Brown University owns or leases more than 10 properties along the western portion of the vacant highway land, with the centerpiece being 222 Richmond St., the new home for the Warren Alpert Medical School. Brown administrators have indicated interest in some highway parcels but have made no formal offers for the land.
Brown is scheduled to make a presentation to the redevelopment commission on March 11.
University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley said the university is considering Route 195 land on the west side of the Providence River as a site for a nursing school to be jointly operated with Rhode Island College.
He is championing a $65-million facility that would include retail space, offices for collaborative research and spinoff companies.
Only Carpionato has publicly disclosed its proposal, offering a unified concept for all the uncovered land east of the river. The concept stretches beyond the state-controlled land to include land owned by private parties on the eastern flank of South Main Street and the southern edge of James Street.
“We have stated to the commission that we wouldn’t do this project without the whole thing,” Pierik said of the state-owned land.
Dividing up the nine parcels among different entities would slow development, produce inconsistent architectural styles and make the necessary infrastructure work too expensive for private development, said Alfred Carpionato, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
“If it’s not built all together by one developer you cannot put the infrastructure in place,” Carpionato said.
Key to the project is approximately 1,200 parking spaces — about 900 that Carpionato would build underground on land bounded by South Main and South Water streets. An above-ground garage near the church would accommodate the rest.
The company spent about three years refining its vision for the land before sharing a concept last fall with the governor and others, prior to its presentation to the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission.
“It would light up Rhode Island and Providence in particular,” Carpionato said. “This is something I would like to put my name on.”
Kane, the redevelopment commission chairman, has said he will be cautious about affixing the group’s imprimatur to any redevelopment plans. Kane told The Journal recently that most of the land should be developed in 10 to 15 years, although it may be 20 years or more before the last parcel is sold.
Highway land development should not be limited to Rhode Island companies, or even New England ones, he said.
“We don’t want to give [land] to someone in our backyard, just because they’re in our backyard,” Kane told The Journal in January.
For his part, Carpionato is pressing a first-mover advantage, contending that he has the experience and the funding sources to begin work as soon as he has the property and necessary permits.
The developer said he has no tenants committed to the project. He expects financing would come from existing arrangements he has with Citizens Financial Group, Sovereign Bank or another bank.
He is known for retail development projects, some of which have engendered a fair amount of contentiousness.
Among the projects is the Chapel View development in Cranston, which took nearly a decade to bring to its current — and unfinished — state.
Two projects in Providence, an 18-story hotel proposed for a triangular lot between the U.S. Post Office and Memorial Boulevard, the other a shopping strip on the site of the Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse, never materialized. The demolition of the warehouse was criticized by preservationists in the city.
Carpionato has successfully developed a number of shopping plazas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and owns a dozen of them. The company also owns two War-wick hotels and three Rhode Island office buildings, as well as apartments and condominiums. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL/JOHN FREIDAH An August 2012 aerial photo, looking north, shows the east side of the river, where Carpionato and two other developers have shown interest.
COURTESY OF THE CARPIONATO GROUP Drawings from Carpionato show a multiuse commercial/residential project along the river. Two other developers, Churchill & Banks of Providence and Hecht Development of Gloucester, Mass., have also expressed interest in the land.
COURTESY OF THE CARPIONATO GROUP The Carpionato proposal shows (1) a piazza, (2) riverwalk, (3) park, (4) townhouses, (5) a bridge inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, (6) a hotel, (7) a restaurant, (8) labs and (9) offices. The project would cost $254 million and support the equivalent of 900 full-time jobs, the
THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL/MARY MURPHY The vacant parcel off Wickenden and South Main streets has been piled high with snow from the recent blizzard.