Major life-sciences complex proposed for 195 land

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo is one step closer to her dream of putting a sizable innovation hub on the old I-195 land.

Two private developers – Wexford Science & Technology LLC and CV Properties LLC – submitted a proposal last week to the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission seeking approval for a million-square-foot-plus multi-use project on parcel 22 and parcel 25 of the vacant former highway property, WPRI.com confirmed Wednesday.

“It is a major life-sciences complex that includes lab space, academic research space, a hotel with meeting space and residential and retail components,” Eric Cote, a spokesman for CV Properties, told WPRI.com.

“It is a very large proposed complex,” he said. “The size that it may ultimately be will depend on our discussions with the 195 Commission, so it could change, but it’s currently envisioned as a project in excess of 1 million square feet.”

Dick Galvin, president of CV Properties, said the total investment in the project is projected to be several hundred million dollars. “It’s on a scale we’re not used to seeing in Rhode Island,” he told WPRI.com.

In an email, Wexford spokesman Jim Cullinan said his company “sees great potential and opportunity in Providence … to create an innovation district to keep innovation in the state.” As evidence, he cited the research happening at Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, along with “strong political leadership.”

“Wexford develops projects in partnership with research universities across the country, and we believe that Governor Raimondo is doing a tremendous job creating the right environment and incentives for new development in Rhode Island,” he said.

It’s likely Brown will play some sort of significant role in the Wexford-CV project. The Ivy League school is hoping to receive an infusion of new cash over the next few years once it launches another major capital campaign.

In a statement, Brown President Christina Paxson said the new proposal shows Brown’s investments in the Jewelry District “are having the intended effect of fueling interest in further economic development.” She declined to give details on how Brown may become involved in the new development; the school is already partnering with CV Properties and the state to redevelop the old South Street Power Station.

“If the proposal progresses, we are prepared to work in close partnership with Wexford, the city and the state to seize opportunities to support our ongoing investments in academic research and education to spur discoveries that can improve people’s lives,” Paxson said.

The adjoining parcels that Wexford and CV want encompass about five acres of land bounded by Dyer, Clifford, Richmond and Ship streets. One side of the new complex would be across Dyer Street from the proposed site of the new Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark. The life-sciences company Nabsys, whose CEO is a 195 Commission member, occupies a Brown-owned building along Clifford Street that cuts into the proposed Wexford-CV site.

“Regardless of how you feel about them, this proposal, the PawSox stadium, the parking garage at the Garrahy complex, and the student housing proposed at Parcel 28 would transform this section of the city,” Jef Nickerson, who writes the development-focused blog Greater City Providence, wrote Wednesday.

Raimondo – who campaigned for governor last year in part on a proposal to build what she called an “innovation institute” on the 195 land – was quick to praise the Wexford-CV proposal, which the business community has been whispering about for a few weeks.

“This is an exciting preliminary proposal that could begin the transformation of the I-195 land from vacant lots to a thriving innovation district that highlights the potential of partnering with our outstanding research institutions and our proximity to Boston and Cambridge,” Raimondo said in a statement.

CV’s Cote said it’s too soon to say when construction could begin or in what order the multi-phase development’s components would be constructed, saying the developers first need to engage in discussions with the I-195 Commission about its size and shape.

A spokeswoman for the governor said her office expects the 195 Commission to evaluate the Wexford-CV proposal “in the coming weeks,” and that construction of the complex would occur over “several years.” A 195 Commission spokeswoman said initial discussions about the project will take place at the panel’s June 15 meeting.

“The proposed mixed-use development plan, with its focus on research and development facilities to serve local institutions and attract new employers to the city, is consistent with the vision we have,” 195 Commission Chairman Joseph Azrack said in a statement. He added: “We look forward to working with the sponsors to bring this plan to fruition.”

“We are pleased that there is already such strong interest in the I-195 land – as well as in our hoped-for financial tools for the redevelopment of this land,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said in his own statement.

It’s not clear yet which of those “financial tools” the developers want to tap for the project. The proposals on the table include significant tax credits and a new $25-million fund to subsidize development on the 195 land. The developers could also seek tax breaks from the city of Providence. The law that created the 195 Commission already allows significant tax credits for life sciences.

“We’re still exploring how they may be able to support our proposed development but it’s clear that some form of tax credits and incentives will be essential to make our proposed project a reality,” Dick Galvin, CV Properties’ president, said in a statement.

CV Properties and Galvin have become familiar names in Rhode Island: the Connecticut-based developer is currently turning the South Street Power Station into a new state nursing school. Wexford Science & Technology is known nationally for partnering with anchor institutions to create large-scale multi-use developments such as Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in North Carolina and the University of Maryland BioPark.

“Wexford has a strong track record of innovation and development in other cities, including Boston and Philadelphia,” Raimondo said. The Baltimore-based company is a division of publicly traded BioMed Realty Trust Inc., based in San Diego.

The University of Rhode Island, another partner in the nursing school project, “is excited about the possibilities with the proposed I-195 project and hopes to work with the applicants to define collaborations between URI, Brown University and other research entities to bring innovation and development to the state,” David Dooley, the school’s president, said in a statement.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed all also expressed enthusiasm for the Wexford-CV proposal on Wednesday.

“The administration is excited by initial discussions around developing a state-of-the-art, innovative facility which would encourage the high-tech, forward-looking jobs and investments that are central to the vision for the I-195 land,” Elorza spokesman Evan England said in a statement.

Cote gave a number of reasons for the two developers’ interest.

“Rhode Island and Providence offer a great deal of opportunity for developers, especially in the life sciences area,” he said. “There is excellent political leadership from the state level, from the governor to the General Assembly to the mayor of Providence, all taking important steps to encourage investment and development in life sciences.”

“We’ve got phenomenal research institutions at Brown University and URI that are already making big investments in life sciences in Providence,” he continued. “Those are all very good factors that contribute to our interest in Providence.”Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesiAn earlier version of this story gave a in incorrect first name for CV Properties LLC spokesman Eric Cote.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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