Wexford 195 land project set to get more than $32M from taxpayers

First phase of marquee initiative on old highway land will be smaller than expected

An aerial rendering of the Wexford project's first phase.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission has moved forward with two major projects on the old highway land, allocating big taxpayer subsidies to the Wexford Science & Technology innovation complex and selling another parcel for a mixed-use development.

The commission formally approved both steps at a meeting Monday night.

The Wexford development – a partnership between the company and developer CV Properties LLC – is eventually supposed to turn parcels 22 and 25 of the land into a million-square-foot-plus multi-use complex. Despite being one of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s most high-profile initiatives, it has moved slowly since first being announced in May 2015.

The details of the project’s $158-million first phase were finally unveiled Monday, with second and third phases planned down the line. At 287,000 square feet, the first phase is much more modest than the original proposal of nearly 500,000 square feet – and pricey for taxpayers. Still, 195 Commission Chairman Joe Azrack described it as “a very good start” for getting some momentum on the old highway land.

“I think it’s fair to say that everyone is very excited about the plans that have been put forward,” he said.

The commission voted to give Wexford most of the taxpayer money in its project fund – $19.5 million out of $25 million – to help pay for two buildings: a roughly 191,000-square-foot “Innovation Center” anchored by the Cambridge Innovation Center, a company that leases space to startups, and Brown University’s School of Professional Studies; and a 97,000-square-foot Starwood Aloft hotel with 170 rooms and first-floor retail. The company also wants to renovate One Ship Street so tenants can use it until the new innovation building is done.

In addition, the commission agreed to give Wexford the land it needs for phase one at no cost, in exchange for “an interest in the profits of the project.” The land is valued at approximately $4.5 million, including $2.9 million for the innovation building, according to Azrack.

Beyond that, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said he estimates Wexford will also seek an additional $12.5 million in Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits from the state, bringing the direct taxpayer subsidy for the first phase of the project to about $32 million. Pryor said the state may also agree to give up some revenue it would otherwise take in from the project, such as new tax revenue tied to the new buildings or sales taxes on construction materials; he pegged the amount that could be foregone in the single-digit millions of dollars.

The Wexford project is also expected to qualify for a break in its property taxes from the city of Providence.

“It is a big chunk of change, but it is absolutely critical,” Elizabeth Huidekoper, a member of the commission, said of the various subsidies.

Executives from Wexford and the Cambridge Innovation Center who briefed the commission painted a bright picture of the new complex’s potential, arguing it will be a lure to startups and other employers and will help create a new innovation ecosystem in Providence.

Azrack and other officials agreed, suggesting that the Cambridge Innovation Center’s work in particular “will have a truly catalytic effect for the economy and knowledge-based industries in the area.” The company will occupy 66,000 square feet in the new building and Brown will use 50,000 square feet; most of the rest will become new Class A office space, which Pryor said is already being discussed with potential tenants.

The other 195 development discussed Monday is Chestnut Commons, a 116,000-square-foot retail and residential complex proposed by developer Waldorf Capital Management LLC on parcel 30. The commission approved selling the land to Waldorf on Monday evening.

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office said she and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza will hold a news conference Tuesday with officials from Brown, Wexford and the Cambridge Innovation Center to discuss the project. Pryor said Raimondo has been closely involved in pushing the project through.

The commission said an analysis by the firm Appleseed shows the Wexford project will generate $100 million in state revenue over the next 20 years and create more than 1,000 permanent jobs.

“We anticipate that the construction of this project will overlap with the pedestrian bridge and flagship west-side park,” Peter McNally, the 195 Commission’s executive director, said in a statement. “All this activity will represent a proof statement for those companies that are considering relocation to our Innovation and Design District.”

Here is summary of the Wexford project’s first phase released by the commission:

Project: Wexford Development, LLC is proposing a more than $150 million commercial development on former I-195 land in Providence. The project includes two ground-up construction buildings: an approximately 191,000 SF Innovation Center office building focusing on the life sciences and an approximately 170-room hotel with ground floor retail. The Innovation Center is anchored by Brown’s School of Professional Studies and the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). CIC is an incubator and co-working facility and has a proven track record of fostering the development of companies with an innovation focus. In addition to approximately 65,000 SF of office space, CIC will also operate an on-site café and District Hall, a two-story public meeting space, which will facilitate gathering and collaboration among local entrepreneurs. The project also includes the renovation of One Ship Street for interim use by tenants while the Innovation Center is under development.

Located near the future pedestrian bridge that will span the Providence River and connect the area to the East Side, the project will be a cornerstone of the Innovation and Design District and will help anchor further redevelopment in Providence. Additionally, the project will reactivate a vacant parcel in the heart of Providence, create high quality office space, and help to foster innovation.

Request Under Consideration: In addition to the land itself, the Sponsor is seeking $18.5 million for the Innovation Center and $1 million for renovations to One Ship Street from the I-195 Redevelopment Fund. The Sponsor has also requested incentives from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

Sponsor Description: The office building is being developed by Wexford, which has extensive experience successfully executing similar developments with a life science focus. Similar past projects include the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis, MO; City Square in Philadelphia, PA; and the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, NC. CV is the lead on the hotel development. Wexford and CV are also partners on the South Street Landing project in Providence’s Jewelry District.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram