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Pawtucket project ‘full steam ahead’ but without financing details

Target 12

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The $400 million project that would transform Pawtucket’s riverfront into a stunning three-site destination is “moving forward quickly,” according to the developer, but details on where the private financing stands remain unknown.

The plans revealed in December show Tidewater Landing gleaming on the Seekonk River near the mouth of the Blackstone, with a bridge connecting a 7,500-seat soccer stadium to a riverwalk and a housing and retail development on Division Street.

A hotel and community sports complex would be built across I-95 on the land where the shell of Apex stands.

The projections from the state and developer Fortuitous Partners are strong and optimistic: more than 1,000 permanent jobs, 2,500 construction jobs to build the project and a predicted $130 million-a-year impact on the state’s economy.

Mayor Donald Grebien calls it a “game-changer.”

“Sorry for the cliche, but it really is,” Grebien said. “I know we have a hidden gem here, right? So, it’s how do you access it?”

During a tour of the sites, Grebien stopped at Festival Pier and pointed up-river to the three locations. But the details required a drive.

On Prospect Street, Pawtucket’s need for a shot in the arm was shadowed by what was Memorial Hospital, now a mostly empty building that’s for sale. McCoy Stadium, where the PawSox are preparing to play their last season before moving to Worcester, is only a few blocks away.

Grebien said he expects Tidewater Landing to have an economic ripple effect on adjacent neighborhoods.

“We see it as Prospect Street down to the water. That’s probably the boundaries,” Grebien said.

Skydrone 12 gives you a better view of those boundaries where the wooded areas on both sides of the river would become the multi-use giant with 200 housing units, 300,000 square feet of office, retail and community space.

At Division and School, Grebien pointed to where restaurants and the riverwalk would rise.

He also acknowledges about a decade ago, his predecessor Mayor James Doyle proposed a hotel for the same piece of land.

“It was going to be a hotel and then the market just dropped and there was no investment. That’s why we need to capitalize on the time when [the economy is] this high,” Doyle said.

Under the current proposal, taxpayers would fund $70 million to $90 million in infrastructure improvements to connect the dots between the sites.

But the city is still negotiating to buy the Apex property.

“We’re working with the city,” Grebien said, as he drove toward the old Apex. “CommerceRI continues ongoing discussions with Apex representatives regarding the site. We feel that conversations are going well and hope to come to a successful conclusion.”

Grebien downplays the risk, pointing out taxpayer funding won’t happen without the $300 million in private investment.

“There’s always risk in any type of agreement that you do, right? $300 million-plus is being invested. We wouldn’t be getting [the $300 million] if we didn’t have all our investments and incentives out there,” Grebien said.

Those incentives include the General Assembly-approved Pawtucket Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, allowing the borrowed money to be paid back with sales and hotel taxes from the finished project.

Within a few blocks of the stadium site, Grebien did acknowledge the Opportunity Zone tax break created by President Donald Trump and Congress as a key part to making Tidewater work.

“There’s a lot of value in that so you have to give credit where it is due,” Grebien said.

Developer Fortuitous Partners is led by Brown University graduate Brett Johnson.

When Tidewater Landing was unveiled in December, Johnson said he had $100 million in verbal commitments towards the target, which is three times that.

He would not elaborate on that when contacted this week by Target 12.

“We have had numerous conversations with interested and motivated investors,” Johnson said.

Grebien said he is confident Johnson can deliver.

“There’s a lot of the responsibility that is on the private side and it really comes to them showing that they can raise that money,” Grebien said. “And I believe they will.”

Johnson, just as confident.

“We are full steam ahead to make Tidewater Landing a reality,” Johnson said. “I am looking forward to reaching a point where details are final, or nearly so, and we can share them with the public.”

The end of April is the deadline for the finalized deal, complete with financing commitments.

“Everyone focuses on the shovels in the ground,” Grebien said. “There’s a lot more to do before then.”

Send your story ideas to Target 12 Investigator Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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