Governor Gina Raimondo said Wexford Science & Technology's planned innovation center in the I-195 District will be a game-changer for Rhode Island's economy and is well worth the more than $32 million in public subsidies being used as part of the project.
"No one is more focused on being a steward for taxpayer dollars than I am," Raimondo said during a news conference Tuesday to describe progress on the development. "Our goal is, use as little subsidy as possible to create the most number of jobs. .... This was negotiated. We were tough negotiators, as hard as we could be, over a period of months, to stick up for the taxpayer and make sure that we did a good deal."
Construction is expected to start in 2017 on Wexford's $158 million innovation center and the company has attracted as tenants Brown University's School of Professional Studies (50,000 square feet) and the Cambridge Innovation Center (66,000 square feet). The project includes a Starwood hotel being developed by CV Ventures with approximately 170 rooms and street-level retail.
Raimondo said the development -- the first major project in the I-195 District -- will have a transformative effect on the state's economy, by adding more than 2,000 jobs at different income levels and spurring the kind of innovation sector she touted during her 2014 campaign for governor.
"That's going to begin the snowball," Raimondo said. "What we're giving up in subsidy is a fraction of the economic development that we're going to create, and a fraction of the total tax dollars that we're going to get back."
An analysis prepared by Appleseed estimates the Wexford development will generate an additional $100 million in revenue over the next 20 years.
The governor said she can now pick up the phone "and say we have a world-class developer and we have Cambridge Innovation Center, who chose Rhode Island, and they're making a $150 million investment in Rhode Island. And we're creating a couple of thousand jobs in Rhode Island. And it's eye-opening. That's why I refer to this as a game-changer. It's momentum. For too long we've been standing still, and our people have lost out on good-paying jobs. And now we're on the move, and this is just another sign of our momentum."
Joining Raimondo for the news conference in a Brown University-owned building at 121 South Main St. were Thomas Osha, Wexford's senior vice president for innovation & economic development; Alan Fein, chief operating officer for Cambridge Innovation Center; State Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor; Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning & policy at Brown University; and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.
Pryor said the subsidies for the development include $18.5 million from the I-195 Commission's $25 million development fund; an expected Rebuild RI tax credit in the neighborhood of $12.5 million; the possible waiving of some taxes for building materials and hotel rooms; and a municipal tax stabilization agreement.
Land valued at $4.5 million is being given to the developer as part of the project. Pryor was not immediately able to explain how that squares with I-195 Commission regulations calling for land to be sold at fair market value, although he said, "We believe this is a permissible action." Pryor later clarified that the value of the land can be contributed by the commission as part of the incentives for the development.
Part of the concept behind the innovation center is that it will help to catalyze commercial research, possibly for medical instruments and other healthcare-related ideas.
"We think Providence is ripe for this kind of activity," Fein said, due to the presence of higher education institutions and buy-in from state and local government.
Baltimore-based Wexford signed a purchase and sale agreement for a planned life-science complex in the I-195 District last January. Osha said the time between that and the I-195 Commission's approval Monday evening of incentives for the project was not unusual. He predicted the development will help to sew together downtown and the Jewelry District.
"Folks have been wanting to see cranes in the sky for a very long time," Elorza said. While Wexford's project marks an investment in people, he said, it will also bring the kind of physical signs of progress long sought in the state.
Brown's School of Professional Studies offers a series of master's programs, including an executive MBA.
Osha said Wexford has not lost enthusiasm for incorporating residential development in the I-195 District, but plans to pursue that at a later date.
Raimondo, meanwhile, said she could see a $20 million "innovation bond" approved by voters being used as part of the I-195 District, but said she wants the money to be awarded as part of competitive process.
While the first phase of Wexford's Providence development is smaller than initially planned, Raimondo said she will continue pushing for further growth, and Wexford's Osha said the company's initial phases in other cities have sparked additional development.