Warwick’s transportation hub has a new name – City Centre Warwick has replaced the simpler “Interlink” – and state and city officials were out in numbers yesterday to promote it as the place to invest.
“We’re really right here in the heart of our state to see the economy grow,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee told an audience of local developers, chamber of commerce representatives and reporters at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Chafee has broadcast that same message since he was Warwick’s mayor, when he brought attention to the fact that Green Airport is closer to Amtrak rails than any other airport in the northeast. And, while the message remains consistent, so too are some of the players.
John R. Pagliarini, who served Chafee when he was mayor and is now chief of staff at the Rhode Island Development Corporation, was emcee for yesterday’s announcement. He recalled how Mayor Chafee stood behind a chain link fence that surrounded the Bayliss Chemical plant and said it was a potential site for a train station. Decades later, the site became a station, a parking garage and a central facility for rental cars; all connected to the airport by the Interlink.
While there has been some development, such as the Hilton Garden Inn and the Iron Works Tavern, that imagined redevelopment hasn’t yet occurred.
When Chafee was elected governor, he pledged to make the Interlink and the Warwick Station Development District key components in the state’s economic development strategy. At yesterday’s event, the EDC rolled out the new name, the new logo, the website and videos aimed at attracting development between Post Road and Jefferson Boulevard opposite the airport.
“The goal of developing the new brand – City Centre Warwick – is to create a cohesive identity on a local, regional and national level to help market the 95 acres surrounding T.F. Green Airport, the Warwick rail station, the Interlink and Interstate 95 that make up this unique development opportunity,” said Pagliarini.
The objective, he went on to say, is “to position City Centre Warwick as a prime, transit-oriented development hub, with significant investment and business growth opportunities that will benefit the city of Warwick and all of Rhode Island.”
The marketing effort was welcome news to Michael D’Ambra, who for more than four years has been ready to move ahead with plans to transform the eight-acre site of his construction company and asphalt plant on Jefferson Boulevard into a hotel, office towers and retail space.
“Sooner or later, it’s going to happen,” D’Ambra said prior to the start of Monday’s meeting.
He said he has not had a single legitimate inquiry about his proposal since it gained the required city zoning and permitting. He said he has moved ahead with moving the construction business and asphalt plant to Johnston and that move should happen next spring.
Another developer, Michael Integlia, who recently acquired and subdivided the 80-acre Leviton property on Jefferson Boulevard was more upbeat.
“We’re working on plans, exploring,” Integlia said when asked what may become of the Elizabeth Mill, the brick building that the city administration fought hard to preserve as the signature building for the district. Although it’s quiet at the moment, Integlia sees the business climate brightening and he expects an announcement in the spring.
According to John Riendeau of EDC, who worked closely on the marketing plan and website (CityCentreWarwick.com), the effort is designed to play a key role in promoting development in the district. He said the site not only offers an overview of the district, but also provides critical information to developers on zoning, utilities, available lots and development opportunities.
Mayor Scott Avedisian likewise acknowledged the years spent since Chafee articulated his vision of connecting the airport and a rail station.
“Slow and steady always wins the race,” he said.
He said now is the time to market the district. “We know the types of businesses we need to attract,” he said.
Avedisian, who is featured in one of the promotional videos, said the district has the potential of 1.5 million square feet of new development producing 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs.
Senator Jack Reed made the connection to airport projects and how, once a longer runway with international and non-stop coast-to-coast service is completed in 2017, it will draw in additional business.
“We’ve got to keep doing more,” he said.
Phil Kydd, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation, said the district is on “the cutting edge” and is well positioned to be a leader in development.
In addition to the $400,000 federal grant used to develop the marketing campaign, Kydd pointed out that the state has another $1 million in federal funds to make pedestrian-friendly improvements within the district. He also said that the DOT is looking at giving the Airport Connector “a more park-like feel” as the gateway to state visitors and that it is in discussions with the MBTA to increase commuter rail stops at the Interlink, including weekend service.
Kelly Fredericks, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, said the airport is prepared to embank on a new phase of growth. He said he welcomed the opportunity to join the state and the city in marketing City Centre Warwick.