Targeted for growth
Could residential development really take place in the area around upper Allens Avenue, a stretch now punctuated by large oil storage tanks, particularly with regional softening in the housing market and with uncertainty facing some of the more prominent condo developments announced with ballyhoo in Providence in recent years?
As unlikely as this might seem at the present, the Waterfront section of the City of Providence’s Providence Tomorrow planning document — which characterizes this area as being “in transition” — sketches things out this way:
“Several water-dependent utility and energy related businesses that are essential to the regional economy are located here, as well as important marine repair services. The land area reserved for industrial uses, however, is currently more extensive than the demand for heavy industrial, water-dependent uses and activities. In addition, many of these businesses are an inefficient use of the land . . . There is an increasing demand for commercial and tourist-related development such as hotels, restaurants, and retail uses in this area. On lands no longer needed exclusively for maritime purposes, new maritime mixed-use developments could provide improved and expanded commercial and recreational maritime facilities, open spaces, residences and public access combined with revenue-generating, water-oriented activities and attractions to increase the public’s enjoyment of the waterfront.”
In the part that has caused the most anxiety for those industrial businesses to the north, this section goes on to call the industrial areas south of Thurbers Avenue “the ideal location for water-dependent heavy industry . . . Water-dependent uses that are scattered throughout the Narra¬gansett Bayfront could be consolidated in this location.”
While Providence has long been thought to have an insufficient number of hotel rooms — and the Wall Street Journal recently named the city as a top-10 emerging global tourism destination — the statement about “an increasing demand for commercial and tourist-related development” seems to have been pulled from thin air.
Be that as it may, Thomas E. Deller, Providence’s director of Planning & Development, points to the northern part of the Allens Avenue waterfront as a logical place for development.
In a citywide map, created by Planning & Development, of “areas of stability and change,” perhaps the largest “growth district” is represented by the waterfront land extending from downtown, through South Providence and Washington Park, almost to the Cranston line.
The vast majority of land within Providence’s 18 square miles is developed, Deller says, and of that, 47 percent is occupied by institutions that don’t pay taxes, and residential neighborhoods account for roughly another 33 percent. Taking into account the historic downtown, the upshot, he says, is: “We have a very limited area where we can grow.” And since only two of the businesses on upper Allens Avenue, Promet Marine Services and Sprague Energy Corporation, are water-dependent, he says, it makes sense, to target the area for economic growth.

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