Paolino Properties’ Managing Partner, Joseph R. Paolino Jr., was featured in a recent op-ed published in the Providence Journal about using the available I-195 parcels for the life science and biotechnology industries to help stimulate economic growth in Rhode Island.
Read the story below:
Joseph R. Paolino Jr. served as mayor of Providence from 1984-1991 and was director of the Rhode Island Department of Economic Development from 1991-1994. He is currently managing partner at Paolino Properties.
The future of the I-195 parcels in Providence’s Innovation District is at a crossroads. Recently, there has been talk about developing more apartment buildings on the available land. While few can refute the need for more housing, especially affordable housing, we need to take a step back to look at the bigger picture for this part of the city.
This past summer, Wexford Science & Technology sold The River House to Brown University in order to house 270 graduate and medical students. The Hope Point Tower (also known as Fane Tower, a residential building) now looks like it will become a reality. Altogether, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission has approved 1,000 housing units in the Innovation District. Not to mention the fact that the Superman Building may add an additional 284 units to downtown Providence. While these are all significant additions to the housing market in the area, it is worth noting that many of them are upscale apartments — with average rents of $2,000 for a one-bedroom.
For decades, I’ve been frustrated by the pace of development in the area and I’ve urged the state to become a player in the biotech and life science space. We need a shared vision and action plan in order to reap true economic development benefits. The Rhode Island Foundation recently commissioned an analysis of the life sciences industry in and for Rhode Island by leaders who helped build the Massachusetts biotech community and it will be made public when completed. In the meantime, the state should issue a request for proposals for the development of this land, identify a qualified developer with experience siting and building these types of facilities, and require them to lead the attraction of life science and biotech companies.
Biomed Realty, a Blackstone Portfolio company, is a perfect example of such a company. BioMed Realty develops world-class facilities exclusively for the science and technology industries. Since a developer like this one works with biotech companies every day, they know exactly what specifications companies require and have excellent relationships established. The state might also use the proposed 80,000 square foot state-of-the-art lab for the Rhode Island Department of Health as an additional “carrot” or incentive for companies like Biomed Realty to help establish Providence as a new hub for life sciences.
Few cities in the Northeast boast the strategic advantages that Providence has: a great location with multimodal transit and close proximity to major cities like Boston and New York. As well as large parcels of undeveloped land, just minutes from outstanding academic research partners. My father used to say that when you buy or sell property, always look to your right and left, and back and front, because those neighbors are your next customers. The Innovation District is anchored by Lifespan, Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School building, the Brown School of Public Health, South Street Landing – home to the Rhode Island Nursing Education Center, the Wexford Innovation Center, and the Cambridge Innovation Center. These are great neighbors for future companies. It didn’t happen by accident that some of the largest employers in Providence are a part of hospital networks. As they say, success breeds success.
Rarely does a city have the opportunity to think strategically about large parcels of undeveloped land. It would be short-sighted to build housing on these parcels. We will not reap the long-term economic development benefits from additional housing in this location but we will create high paying jobs and the potential for thousands of new jobs in the future if we use the remaining parcels of the I-195 land for biotech and life science companies.
I urge the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and our elected officials to use the undeveloped parcels of land to attract new companies and create jobs.