East Providence Waterfront Commission reaches anniversary milestone progressing ‘nicely’

After some fits and starts, development of city’s shoreline gathers momentum 15 years on

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/19/19

EAST PROVIDENCE — Fifteen years since its inception, things are “progressing nicely,” thank you, said East Providence Waterfront Commission chairman Bill Fazioli. The story of how the city’s …

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East Providence Waterfront Commission reaches anniversary milestone progressing ‘nicely’

After some fits and starts, development of city’s shoreline gathers momentum 15 years on


EAST PROVIDENCE — Fifteen years since its inception, things are “progressing nicely,” thank you, said East Providence Waterfront Commission chairman Bill Fazioli. The story of how the city’s shoreline has been revamped has had its ebbs and flows, but now appears to be one known well to investors, who are increasingly interested in taking part.

Mr. Fazioli recently reflected on the body’s milestone anniversary, noting how mostly external factors have both positively and negatively affected its ability to see its mission come to fruition.

And there’s no better person to do so. Mr. Fazioli, as East Providence City Manager at the time, was an ex officio member of the commission when state legislation brought it to life back in 2003 and it was first seated in 2004. Following his departure as manager, the then City Council in 2006 appointed him as a voting member. In 2009, he took on the role as acting chairman. After a lengthy period with the interim title, the previously-seated council formally recommended, with state approval, him being named full-time chair just last year, 2018.

“Progress is ongoing,” Mr. Fazioli said. “While the process admittedly started slow, we’re now at a point where I think we have some good momentum.”

The chairman said one of the initial obstacles the commission faced was getting property owners along the city’s shore motivated enough to remediate and invest in their property for future use.

“For the longest time, before 2004, the city’s waterfront properties really had no future,” Mr. Fazioli said of the environs the commission faced from the outset. “No one wanted to go near them.”

Undaunted, the commission put the processes in place over a period of some four or five years, which he said created a more welcoming atmosphere for investors. However, it was at that point when “The Great Recession” of 2008 hit, “stalling” the commission’s efforts, Mr. Fazioli said.

As the world, national and local economy reemerged about four years later, things started to pick up along East Providence’s waterfront. Companies like Aspen Aerogels and Eaton Aerospace were joined by developments such as the Tockwotton eldercare facility, then the Kettle Point residential plot and University Orthopedics in helping catapult actual physical signs of the area’s viability.

“I remember back in 2006 when Kettle Point was owned by British Petroleum. We had them in town to discuss the Waterfront Commission and our vision to redevelop it. The company was very skeptical and wasn’t very receptive to our ideas,” Mr. Fazioli said. “I’m pretty sure one of the company representatives said that we shouldn’t focus on this and the property will likely never be developed. The money needed to remediate the property will never be recovered.

“The reality is that this was private property and we had to demonstrate the benefits to the community by cleaning up this property and eventually making it ready for development. Well, as you can see now, Kettle Point has in fact been developed. It’s because of the persistence of city officials, city staff and commission members during the past 15 years.”

Adhering to its mandate has been key to any successes earned by the commission, the chairman said. Those factors have included improving the environment, offering public access, initiating economic development, understanding the fiscal impact, creating mixed-use areas, focusing on quality products and sensitivity to the concerns of the community. One huge effort by the commission was streamlining of the permit process.

“I think we have lived up to our initial guidelines. I think every project that comes to us, we get to it within 45 days. That’s always been something we’ve been able to abide by…The primary goals of the Waterfront Commission, for me at least, have been to expand the city’s tax base, increase job opportunities and provide public access to the waterfront that has been non-existent for decades, since the land was private and was used for industrial purposes. I believe that we’ve done this and these goals will continue to guide our work in the future,” Mr. Fazioli added.

He continued, “I think that’s a tribute to the staff we’ve had and the high quality of our commission members, many of whom have experience in development, real estate and architecture. (Former City Planning Director) Jeanne Boyle started it, and it continued in 2017 when (Commission Executive Director) Pam Sherrill came on board. She’s been extremely dedicated considering we’re limited budget wise. She’s spent hours over and beyond what we pay her for. She’s very motivated and dedicated as an East Providence resident. Her knowledge, especially in transportation, has been key and will be with the new Henderson Bridge project.”

The announcement earlier this year by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to replace the 50-year-old structure connecting the city to the East Side of Providence could be the next significant domino to fall. Also from the state, Mr. Fazioli said the commission was “very grateful” to receive a $50,000 legislative grant through East Providence’s General Assembly delegation in the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget, which will be used to augment a portion of Ms. Sherrill’s salary and potentially allow the hiring of additional aides.

“The new Henderson Bridge will be a key driver in future investment. It will hopefully provide new and improved access to Waterfront Drive and renew interest in projects that have been proposed previously and others that could be in the works,” Mr. Fazioli said.

Another more recent announcement of Waterfront Productions LLC purchasing land known as the South Quay to construct a permanent concert facility to replace the temporary one at Bold Point is another sign of progress being made at the shore.

Likely next on the agenda is pending plans for the Chevron property on Veterans Memorial Parkway across from Metacomet Country Club where a mixed use development, including potentially a hotel, could be in the offing.

And a project Mr. Fazioli continues to hold out hope for is that of the GeoNova site in Phillipsdale. Noting it “was supposed to be the start of it all,” the property has been tied up in litigation for the better part of decade, but could soon be back in play.

“I think we’re at a point now where we don’t have to tell the story of the waterfront anymore,” Mr. Fazioli said. “People come to us already knowing about it and wanting to invest.

“The city had a plan 15 years ago to capitalize on its waterfront property…There’s only 300 acres total in the Waterfront District. I think in another 15 years, it will be mostly developed…Unfortunately, we ran into some road blocks along the way, but now I think the future looks very promising.”

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.