Construction is underway on a new parking garage in downtown Providence, Providence Business News reports, and while the project is publicly-funded most of the parking spaces will be for private use.
900 of the structure’s proposed 1250 spaces will be dedicated to tenants at Wexford Science & Technology’s innovation center under construction in the neighborhood. The facility will house the Cambridge Innovation Center, which offers small businesses shared working space and access to venture-capital investors. Fellow tenants include Brown University’s School of Professional Studies and Johnson & Johnson’s Health Technology Center. The Wexford project alone received $18.8 million in tax incentives from 195 Redevelopment Fund and $13.5 million in Rebuild Rhode Island Tax Credits, for a total of $32.3 million.
Another 200 spaces will also be allocated to visitors and employees at the Garrahy Judicial Complex on Dorrance street. This leaves only a projected 150 parking spaces for general public use. R.I. Convention Center Authority executive director Jim McCarvill told the Providence Journal in 2014 that, though parking revenue will go towards paying the construction bonds, any shortfalls will have to be appropriated from the state budget.
In a 2015 letter to the Downtown Design Review Committee published by EcoRI, former Transport Providence blogger James Kennedy argued to city planners that, instead of giving aid to garage structures, Providence would be better served by charging a higher tax on surface lots, which are currently favored and much cheaper.
“If we correct this problem, there should be no need to give any aid at all to garages,” Kennedy wrote. “People will either find that there is enough demand to finance them privately, or not at all.” He added that a higher surface-lot rate would drive down property taxes, encourage downtown infill, and allow for increased affordable housing.
Instead, it seems, Rhode Islanders unwittingly voted for the city’s courtship with private development, on top of previous tax breaks, providing a scant number of actually public spaces—and a block-sized behemoth to boot.
The parking garage will fill an entire block between Friendship and Chestnut streets in Providence’s Jewelry District. The public authorized the use of bonds for the project in 2014, and the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority has pledged to fund the site, which will cost an estimated $43 million according to a report filed by a special legislative commission on the project.