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It’s the $610 Million IWAY or No New Highway for City of Providence, R.I.

For the city of Providence, R.I., the new mantra is relocation, relocation, relocation.

Wed March 12, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Location, location, location is the mantra of successful real estate. For the city of Providence, R.I., the new mantra is relocation.

The relocation of Interstate 195 to make way for the $610 million IWAY bridge and highway project through downtown Providence, has opened up nearly 20 acres of prime saleable land along the Providence River, a boon for a city and state that has flirted with bankruptcy each of the last three years.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), two general contractors and as many as two dozen sub-contractors are now rebuilding the infrastructure and several connecting and surrounding city streets in the footprint of the former I-195.

RIDOT began the demolition of the old highway in 2010, removing more than 3,500 ft. (1,066.8 m) of the three-lane road, which was built in the late 1950s and officially closed in late 2009. Another 1,500 ft. (457.2 m) of old highway was taken down through other contracts associated with the I-195 relocation. The project has changed the landscape of Providence and has addressed a wide range of issues, including safety, aging infrastructure, traffic congestion and economic development.

The relocation of Interstate 195 opened up about 37 acres of land, with 20 acres set for new businesses along the waterfront and the remainder for roads, parks and public spaces. Two current contracts are reconstructing roads east and west of the Providence River in the area of the old highway corridor. Both separate contracts, working along parallel lines, will focus on building new streets and repairing old ones, including important connecting thoroughfares such as Wickenden Street, South Main Street and South Water Street.

East and West

Cardi Corporation of Cranston, R.I., which has taken on dozens of RIDOT projects over the past two decades, is focusing on the western side of the river, a $13 million project that will first set underground utilities in winter, then move forward to street site work in summer and beyond. The streets will be rebuilt to accommodate all manner of transportation.

The western contract is scheduled for completion at the end of 2014.

It is linked to a project that is taking place on the eastern side of the river. D’Ambra Construction LLC, of Warwick, R.I., is the general contractor in charge of underground utilities, street improvements and connecting them to the valuable acreage about to be redeveloped. This contract is for $8.1 million and is set for completion by August 2015.

“The eastern side is the D’Ambra side of the river,” said Peter DeSimone, resident engineer for RIDOT, who is overseeing both projects. “His focus is roadway and infrastructure on the surrounding streets — South Water Street, South Main Street, the Wickenden Street area. D’Ambra LLC is reestablishing city streets on that side of the river.”

When the streets are completed, they will lead to a new pedestrian walkway and bridge, giving access to thousands of daily commuters to view the spectacular river that ends in the very center of Providence.

“The pedestrian bridge itself is still in the process of being designed. It is going through multiple style bridge designs. The city of Providence is heavily involved in that, as well as The 195 Redevelopment District Commission,” said DeSimone. “Surrounding the bridge, there will be about eight acres of parks on each side of the river that are also in early stages of design. The focus now is getting the bridge built and completing it with the park design coming later.”

The bridge will be in place by 2016.

“Streets and infrastructure, totaling $21.2 million in the joint effort of the two contracts, are the immediate priority,” said DeSimone. “D’Ambra is focused on all underground utilities, new sanitation systems, sewer lines, drainage lines, water lines, and relocating what is in place. South Water Street is migrating over to the eastern part of the project to the larger land area in the eventual creation of the park. The first, current phase is to repair and improve South Water, South Main and Wickenden streets which lead there,” he said.

Two Sides, Same Goal

On the opposite side of the river, general contractor Cardi Corp. is doing similar work over a larger area.

“Their project is a little bigger. It migrates from the frontage road to Interstate 95 and works all the way to the river,” said DeSimone. “Again, Cardi is putting in underground utilities, water lines, sewer lines, cable relocation and gas lines. National Grid [the largest power supply company in R.I.] has done electrical work on both sides. They have hired their own subcontractors to do the work.”

These separate projects are part of the same goal, making these newly-exposed, very valuable parcels of prime commercial real estate in the middle of Providence as accessible as possible.

“The main goal is to reestablish city streets and create a new parcel to be sold to new commission, about 19 acres,” said DeSimone. “Originally, the total land was about 37-plus acres, but that was cut down to about 20 acres of actual development parcels. These were, of course, opened up from the footprint from the removal of the old Interstate 195. They will be left with about seven or eight acres of park land, with the rest made up of city streets.”

The Providence River itself will not be touched, according to DeSimone.

“Soil remediation is being done where streets and sidewalks are being constructed. Quite a bit of soil has been removed for both projects,” said DeSimone. “But the river stays as it is.”

DeSimone confirmed that the western side river contract is set for completion at the end of 2014, but the eastern side will not be ready until the end of August 2015.

“They started [the two contracts] about six to eight months apart. Contract 14 [western side] broke ground in April 2013, Contract 15 [the eastern side] broke ground, more like Sept. 1, 2013,” said DeSimone.

RIDOT confirmed that both contractors would employ up to 20 sub-contractors on each side of the river.

“There are many sub-contractors in place,” said DeSimone. “They are doing pavement striping, tree cutting, sidewalks, drilling watering wells, milling, landscaping, electrical contracts, etc. A safety contractor has put up guard rails, fencing and other guides around the river.”

Large amounts of concrete, asphalt and brick for pavement will come in the later stages of the work.

Commuters entering Providence from the East Side will see general contractors working with about 12 to 15 laborers on each side of the river at any one time during daily shifts until dusk.

“I think they are going to be very happy with the final product. There will be tremendous site improvements. These contracts will create a very pleasant, relaxing place to view the river,” said DeSimone.

A Very Large Rolodex

In January, the 195 Redevelopment District Commission, charged with developing this formerly inaccessible land, began planning to accept business proposals from potential developers.

Jan Brodie, commission executive director chose real estate firm Jones Lang Lasalle from a pool of four firms bidding to broker the parcels. At the public meeting, announcing the commission’s choice, Brodie said the Chicago-based company had exceptional skills and a very large “Rolodex.”

The land which arches around the city’s downtown and abuts the riverfront, is being called The LINK, so named because it links the past to the future, downtown to the river and urban living to workplaces.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence,” said former TV news reporter Dyana Koelsch who now heads DK Communications LLC, the publicity firm representing the Commission. “When developed in the professional, diverse manner intended, the property will knit together the parts of the city formerly divided by highway and to create a dynamic center in Providence for people to work, live and play.

“The LINK is the single largest piece of undeveloped property in Providence, and it is now set to become the centerpiece of an historic transformation of the city’s skyline,” said Koelsch.

Jones Lang Lasalle began the bidding process by filtering proposals in early February.

“The 195 Redevelopment Commission, following an open RFP, has selected national brokerage firm of Jones Lang LaSalle because the firm has a strong list of thousands of site selectors, developers, investors and businesses that it will notify about the opportunities offered in The LINK,” said Koelsch. “In addition we are reaching out through news articles, conferences, real estate events and our Web site. We are collaborating with state and city economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, convention center and other organizations and institutions.”

High Rises, High Stakes

The stakes are very high. The economic boon for this faltering state cannot be calculated and the resale must be done right. For developers and businesses, The LINK is offering pad ready sites that include new state of the art-cyber-infrastructure. The property can support up to 3 million sq. ft. (278,709.1 sq m) of new mixed use including premier commercial space, retail and restaurants, residences and hospitality development.

“First and foremost, the intent is to make sure the door is open for all interested parties and there are not obstacles that will inhibit them from developing proposals for The LINK,” said Koelsch.

With universal political and public support, The LINK is preparing a Request for Information (RFI) for prospective developers and businesses.

“No development proposals will be considered unless a response to the RFI has first been submitted and approved as complete,” said Koelsch. “A predictable and expedited process is in place for development. The LINK is controlled by a single entity: The 195 Redevelopment District Commission.”

For the 17 developable parcels (19.2 acres), the Commission has full ownership, an environmental master permit and full authority for proposal review and zoning relief.

Wishing to foster vibrant economic development, virtually all commercial proposals for a renewed Providence will be considered. However, by statute, the land cannot be used for a casino, surface parking or land banking.

Koelsch said the commission’s vision calls for workplaces that are linked to urban living, a downtown that is linked to the riverfront and a new energy that links the past to the future.

The I-195 land represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Providence’s landscape and develop our city’s knowledge district into a regional hub of academic, entrepreneurial and research activity. Today, we celebrate as work begins to put shovels in the ground, create jobs and grow Rhode Island’s economy,” said Mayor of Providence Angel Tavares.

Commuters face two years of traffic detours in and out of Providence, via the East Side exits.

“We ask that the residents bear with us and be patient while we complete this important work,” said Michael P. Lewis, director of Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT). “The result will be an alignment that will better support the city with improved access to the new highway and the neighborhoods nearby.”

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