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Wexford Promising 40% Minority Jobs in Philadelphia, Zero in Rhode Island

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


A rendering of part of the proposed Wexford development on 195 land in Providence.

Just days after the Wexford deal was announced in Providence for 195, Wexford announced a similar sized deal in Philadelphia with the same tenant — Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) -- with one major difference.

A Philadelphia City Councilwoman held up the deal there until she said Wexford agreed to greater diversity in the project hiring

Meanwhile, in Providence, the 195 Commission -- the overseer of the project -- has refused to answer questions relative to whether diversity is a required component of the jobs being touted. 

GoLocal spoke with Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who says she was successfully able to increase the percentage of diversity hiring (i.e. "inclusion") for the taxpayer funded Wexford project in Philadelphia from 25% to 40%.

"We've been talking with Wexford, we're trying to increase our neighborhood numbers [for jobs], and we've raised it to 40%. Right now we're in the middle of projects. We're still going through inclusion, fighting against gentrification and fighting for neighborhood jobs," said Blackwell. "So far, so good -- [Wexford] seems like positive partners."

Rhode Island Concerns

In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo and Commerce RI touted 2,000 jobs being created by the Wexford project. That number purportedly includes 1,000 construction jobs, and 1,000 permanent jobs. 

RI Commerce, 195 Commission, Wexford, CIC, and Brown University have all refused to disclose what the tenants (Brown and CIC) are paying in subsidized rents to Wexford, despite the $32 million plus in taxpayer subsidies, however. 

In Philadelphia, the state is providing a $2.5 million grant, and Blackwell says the community has been assured that Wexford will be held to including a certain number of minority hires -- which at this point is 40%.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell

"I talk with people who are deeply concerned about [195 and jobs]. It's a bit like gentrification on steroids," said Jim Vincent, President of the NAACP Providence Branch, of the 195 projects. "The NAACP is very concerned about the jobs and labor participation on those projects."

"It's a great opportunity in a city that's 50% people of color -- and our unemployment rate is double the rate of the white community," said Vincent. "I'm very concerned about whether or not people of color will be hired. 195 needs to be aggressive that we have a good participation rate of people of color, and not just 10%."

Blackwell on the Record

GoLocal spoke with Blackwell, who said she first met Wexford when they were working with Drexel University in the development area in Philadelphia called University City.

Blackwell stressed the importance of calling for, and memorializing, diversity in hiring early in the process. 

"It's truly important to get all your info up front. Again, we're still going through all of this, and it's really important to get as much info as you can and assurance that it's going to happen. If you don't get it up front, it's very difficult to make it happen. People say it's going to happen, and it falls by the wayside. It's the major issue in University City, and I'm fighting hard," said Blackwell.  

"People are afraid of gentrification. People are afraid they're not going to get jobs -- so get it all up front. I have community groups demanding community benefits agreements -- and that the community gets jobs," added Blackwell.

Blackwell said in her dealings with Wexford, that she was very specific in the information she wanted from them. 

"When you talk to them, make sure that what they want for those jobs, what are the requirements, licenses, degrees -- what are their criteria? Get that up front so you're not stuck telling the community one thing and it turns out to be another," said Blackwell. 

"So far, far Wexford seems willing, but we're still at the beginning phases. One of these projects -- a  hotel -- it didn't happen and the inclusion wasn't there," said Blackwell. "You have to have to make sure up front. They say 'just let us know what we can do,' but you have to make sure."

Editor's Note: Following publication of the article, the 195 Commission's spokesperson provided a copy of the TSA agreement which stipulates eligible properties must make a "good faith" effort to hire 10% MBE and WBE contractors during construction. 

SLIDES: Reactions to Fane's Initial 3-Tower Proposal for 195


Related Slideshow: Reactions to Fane’s “One Tower” Proposal on 195 - December 9, 2016

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Joseph Paolino

Former Mayor of Providence 

"If the developer thinks the market is there, and the state doesn't have to subsidize it - if someone wants to come in and spend hundreds of millions of their own money, we should try and make it easier, not more difficult. Yes, they’d be getting a tax stabilization but remember that property isn't paying taxes now -- highways have never paid property taxes.

As for people opposed to it, as my dad used to tell me, that's why Howard Johnson has 28 flavors -- everyone has their opinion on what's attractive or not attractive, what’s an addition to the skyline, or a detraction. But again, if someone wants to spend hundreds of millions and employ people and create housing and add an attractive element to the city, we should be embracing it."

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Travis Escobar

Project Manager, Public Policy at United Way of Rhode Island, founding member of the Millennial Professional Group of Rhode Island

“I’ve heard from young professionals who have left the state, citing our lack of development and opportunity as reasons why. If we want to tackle our brain-drain, young professionals and recent graduates need more opportunities to work and thrive.

While it's encouraging to see out-of-state developers wanting to invest in our state, any proposal should be given thoughtful review to truly understand how it can help our business community."

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Dan Baudouin

Executive Director, The Providence Foundation

"We certainly welcome outside investor and capital interest in downtown and growing the downtown residential community is one of our goals because of the many benefits that it brings.

However, this proposal is quite a departure from the plans that many have been developed for this area and thus requires  analysis, study and discussion. At this point, the Providence Foundation does not have sufficient information nor has had the time to discuss the project."

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Sharon Steele

Jewelry District Association Vice-President

“We need ‘live, work, and play’ -  in scale. We have 95 Chestnut with 60 plus units, Plot 30 with same developer with 90 units, so together that’s 150 units. Then we’ll have the two seven story towers, ‘River House', after South Street landing is completed, next to Davol Square. Then we’ll have 44 Hospital Street.

These are all the right scale, appropriate to the district, all ready to go — what we need is business, lab space, bio tech, start-ups - so that we have people who then need to live there.”


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