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Elorza Can’t Provide Back Up to Claim of 30 Projects, Half Billion in New Construction in ‘16

Thursday, February 11, 2016


In last night’s State of the City Address, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza claimed that the city was entering a period of resurgence due in part “more than 30 new major construction projects worth almost half a billion dollars.”

When asked to provide back up for the claim, the Elorza Administration refused to provide a list of the projects or the dollar amount associated with the respective projects. After nearly a half dozen phone call and email requests for clarification and support materials, the Elorza administration finally emailed a convoluted statement, “That figure is based on projects that have entered into the development review process with a city board, city commission or city department and are expected to break ground in 2016.”

When asked again for supporting information, the Mayor’s office would not respond on the record.

According to those working in economic development in Providence, they could not think of projects in total that come close to the figure and certainly the most significant project now in development — the new URI-RIC Nursing School broke ground previously — in 2014.

Council President Luis Aponte was also taken back by Elorza’s claim. "We (members of the Council) had a similar question, when we heard that number. We've heard that a large portion of those projects -- as much as half -- are tax exempt. Again, when we heard about this, we asked for the list ourselves, so I have no way of confirming right now.”

Little New Tax Revenue

In fact, one top city aide told GoLocal, that most of the projects in any level of development are tied to non-profits or have tax stabilization agreements. The impact of these projects to stabilize the City’s fragile tax base in negligible. “It's further evidence of our dilemma in Providence. The sectors that grow physically are tax exempts, and we need a better way to address that, whether it be PILOT or another way to reimburse the revenue or potential revenue to the City," said Aponte.

Projects now being developed at Brown University or by Johnson and Wales will generate construction jobs, but no long-term financial benefit to the City of Providence’s revenue stream. 

This past week, the bond rating agency Fitch downgraded Providence’s bond rating from neutral to negative. The impact of the downgrade will be millions in increased borrowing costs for the City in the long-term.

No Cranes Yet

Presently, there are no construction cranes visible in Providence. Two projects -- the newly approved Procaccianti Group (TPG) hotel and the Wexford project before the 195 Commission -- are new and significant  “crane projects” but both projects are receiving significant taxpayer funded subsidies or tax breaks.

“The construction jobs are great, they spend money in the short term -- but these projects are going to be around for a long time once they're done, and for them to be tax-exempt is an issue," said Aponte.

In contrast, the City of Boston has nearly 100 “crane projects” worth tens of billions of dollars new in development or about to break ground — the Boston Business Journal tracks the projects on an interactive map CLICK HERE  As it is already February, it would be remarkable to see Providence review, approve, and break ground on 30 new major construction projects.


Related Slideshow: Who is Looking to Run for Mayor of Providence in 2018

Jorge Elorza may have three more years in his term as Mayor, but the early bumps and loss of support from the East side of Providence has impacted his ability to lead. The Mayor is facing a large group of potential competitors.

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John Lombardi — The former Mayor, President of the City Council, and presently both a Municipal Court Judge and a State Representative is very popular in his District. He finshed second when he ran for Mayor in 2010, losing in the Democratic Primary to Angel Taveras, but finishing ahead of Steven Costantino.

Strengths: Lombardi would start a Mayor’s race with a number of competitive edges. He has an organization, raised money and has name awareness. In addition, he has the deepest experience and not only knows the issues, but know the neighborhoods and the community leaders.

Weaknesses: Lombardi has a lot of experience, but also has to take responsibility for the economic condition of the City of Providence. In addition, he has taken not one, not two, but three publicly funded pensions. 

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Sabina Matos — The Council Majority Leader has a office to run from and is the highest ranking elected female official in Providence.

Strengths: A leader in the Hispanic community, she would be formidable from the onset. As a highly credible female candidate, she would most likely garner the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Nellie Gorbea — who repeatedly have called for more women candidates.

Weaknesses: She has no real fundraising base, but if she could tap groups like EMILY’s List and other pro-female candidate fundraising groups it could make her a top-tier candidate from the onset.

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Brett Smiley — On December 31, 2015, Elorza's former opponent-turned-COO sent out an email from his own political email account that barely mentioned Mayor Elorza, but outlined the successes achieved. For a staff member, who was a previous political rival, to send out a personal political email, was perceived as a political announcement by Smiley. 

Strengths: As a former political consultant and fundraiser, Smiley can raise money. Many insiders identify Smiley as the person to “go-to” to get anything done in City Hall.  And if he has Myrth York's blessing, she delivers the East Side.

Weaknesses: His ties to Congressman David Cicilline and now his role as an architect of Elorza policies could be used against him. His statement urging Providence residents to park their cars in the suburbs during a snow storm will make a great 30 second commercial against Smiley.

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Luis Aponte — The City Council veteran now is City Council President is considered extremely smart and has done a strong job creating a unified majority in the Council and now maybe emerging as a political foil to Elorza.

Strengths: He is seen as a strong consensus builder and has a solid Hispanic base.

Weaknesses: For years Aponte has owed tens of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to file campaign reports. And, his well publicized legal battles with State Representative Greg Costantino are both blights on his reputation that will be tough to overcome.

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Michael Solomon — The former City Council President lost the Democratic Mayoral primary to Jorge Elorza in 2014 — Elorza got 49% to Solomon's 43%. He is the owner of Wes’ Rib House and comes from a long-time political family.

Strengths: Has support from across the City except in the all powerful East Side. As Council President he was able to raise money.

Weaknesses: Because of his long tenure on the City Council he is tagged as “owning” the City’s problems. A GoLocal investigation led to Solomon being fined by the Ethics Commission. His catering company has been repeatedly been cited by the Department of Health for code violations.  He has been out of the "game" - and public eye -- since his defeat, but that hasn't stopped the chatter.

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David Salvatore: The City Councilman just took a job with the Realtors and is getting very active with policy proposals and new ideas.

Strengths: Serves in the minority faction of the City Council and has used that opportunity to call for reforms including criticizing former City Councilwoman Balbina Young and the policies that allow pension spiking

Weaknesses: Little name recognition and a limited base outside of his ward. He supported the trolley project.

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Jeff Padwa: Former Providence City Solicitor and now Chief of Staff to General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is an experienced and well-respected behind-the-scenes staffer.

Strengths: Well-liked, he would enter the race with a East Side base, which proved the King-maker in '14. 

Weaknesses: His ties to Angel Taveras and his policies could easily be used against him.

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Keith Oliveira — Formerly a top staffer at the RI Department of Education and Chair of the Providence School Committee. He is widely respected and politically could connect the neighborhood dots.

Strengths: He grew up in Fox Point, has supporters on the East Side and could pull well in the Southside, West End, and Olneyville. He is one candidate who could potentially put together the magical coalition of the East Side and the South Side. 

Weaknesses: Oliveira has never run for office and does not have an established organization. While he was a reformer while Chair of the School Committee he also, de facto, owns the poor results of the Providence School Department.


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