|By Philip Marcelo, The Providence
Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 26, 2009--PROVIDENCE -- Patrick T. Conley says he has had enough.
Enough of the rancor between him -- a prominent lawyer/developer/historian -- and local industrial businesses. Enough of what he says is a lack of follow-through from the City Hall. Enough of what he sees as the bureaucratic red tape of state environmental regulations.
After four years of fighting, Conley says he is ready to sell the Allens Avenue waterfront property where he has been pushing a controversial plan to develop a hotel, condominium, marina and cruise-ship docking facility.
"I am not going to hold onto this property forever, and it is clear there are people in power that want to see me fail," Conley said.
He says he is soliciting potential buyers for the five-acre parcel that includes the 776-foot pier where the Providence-Newport ferry used to tie up, a modest diner/bar and a large parking lot.
Conley says he is looking to recoup his substantial investment and hoping for a buyer that can realize his vision for the property. If not, he says, he'll take the best offer.
Among those that Conley has approached recently is the Providence Redevelopment Agency, a quasi-city agency whose main mission is to redevelop blighted land.
The agency is "seriously considering the proposal," but a much more thorough examination still has to be done, says city Director of Planning and Development Thomas E. Deller, the agency's executive director.
Conley says he has invested nearly $7 million in the project, purchased in 2005 from Northeast Petroleum, from the price ($2.3 million), to the removal of oil-storage tanks (about $1 million), the renovation of the pier ($1.55 million), and another $2 million in expenses for environmental specialists, architects and planners plus other improvements to the site.
Conley says that his intent was to secure mixed-use zoning (currently it is zoned for maritime industrial uses only) and environmental remediation (the site is a Brownfield), then bring on board a co-investor or a major developer for the estimated $240-million endeavor.
But with loans piling up and the zoning change and environmental cleanup nowhere on the horizon, Conley says he's looking to unload the property in a year or so if nothing changes.
Conley's vision -- a 133-unit hotel, an 88-boat marina and two separate towers housing 240 condos -- has drawn the ire of local industrial businesses.
They formed the Working Waterfront Alliance and began a campaign to scuttle Conley's proposal. He says their efforts have persuaded those in City Hall to hold up the rezoning that the project hinges on.
Joel Cohen, co-owner of Promet Marine Services, a shipyard next to Conley's property, is one of the main spokespersons of the alliance. He acknowledged that the efforts of the local businesses have been fruitful, but he's still skeptical that they've successfully altered the course of city policy.
"We're all in limbo waiting for the city. All of us have investment needs to make to our properties that we are delaying," he said.
Deller says Cohen is correct: The city still believes in a mixed-use zone (meaning both commercial and residential uses, but no heavy industrial business) encompassing the area of the waterfront around Conley's and Cohen's properties -- and an industrial sector around the Port of Providence farther south on Allens Avenue.
The planning director says the mayor and the City Council have agreed to a neighborhood planning process and will not make any zoning changes until that process is complete.
Deller says he expects the city will submit a proposal to the city Planning Commission for zone changes along the waterfront by October. "Things will continue moving. Nothing's changed in terms of city policy. The city still wants new opportunities for economic development," he said.
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Copyright (c) 2009, The Providence Journal, R.I.
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