In the Press

Providence developer Paolino’s purchase of downtown building included lots once eyed for RIPTA hub

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PROVIDENCE — Developer and former mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr.’s company last month bought the building at 10 Weybosset St., plus the parking lots a few blocks away, where RIPTA had previously discussed building a new bus hub.

The ink is barely dry on Paolino Properties’ $12 million purchase of the so-called Amica Building and some nearby parking lots from Bliss Properties on March 19. So it’s too early to say exactly what major changes might take place on the parking parcels. Parking is an important amenity for tenants, Paolino said. He’d also be open to building something else on the lots, including housing, or even going back to the Dorrance Street bus hub idea.

“If the state wants Dorrance Street, I’m open to talking to them” about moving the bus hub there, Paolino said. “But I’m also looking to see if residential (housing) can be built on them.”

Paolino’s company announced the acquisition of the Amica Building last month, but the significance of the parking lots that were also included in the sale seems to have gone unnoticed. The lots were at one time very significant for RIPTA and the future of the bus hub: The agency had at one point discussed moving the hub there from Kennedy Plaza. The plan involved building a new facility at what’s currently a surface parking lot across from the Garrahy courthouse. Paolino himself has been one of the most vocal supporters of moving the hub out of Kennedy Plaza.

State transportation leaders have spent years kicking the tires on a new bus hub, with the Dorrance Street proposal just one of the many stops along the way. Some riders have kicked back, defending Kennedy Plaza and criticizing many of the options for replacing it.

Nobody will say that the idea for a bus hub on Dorrance Street is now dead. RIPTA has said it will analyze various options. But the focus of those conversations among business and political leaders has now transferred to a site on former Interstate 195 land by Interstate 95. (Paolino himself pointed out what he saw as the advantages of the site.) Some transit advocates were lukewarm at best about the Dorrance Street proposal; the Interstate 195 idea is getting a reception as cold as the nickname some have given the far-flung locale: “Siberia.”

Paolino, for his part, says he’s supportive of various options for the bus hub.

“I’m positive about the bus hub leaving Kennedy Plaza,” he said.

Paolino said he met with US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently in Washington to advocate for action on federal loan programs to spur development around transit. That could help Paolino’s projects, or ones he’s not developing himself, like the Superman Building.

“I think it’s a great program and can help downtown Providence if there’s a concerted effort,” Paolino said. “My message is simple: get the money out the door.”

John Flaherty, the deputy director of the organization Grow Smart RI, said in an interview that Dorrance Street is now being “downplayed” in the conversations he’s had about the hub. The site had at one point made sense, Flaherty said, a position that was contrary to what some others in the transit advocacy world believed. But RIPTA faces broader financial troubles since that idea came up, and it should focus on fixing them before embarking on a new hub, Flaherty said, whether that’s one Grow Smart sees positively, like Dorrance Street, or negatively, like the 195 parcel.

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