On October 4th at Back Bay’s Fairmont Copley Plaza, Bisnow hosted the Providence State of the Market. The first half of the event, moderated by our Alden Anderson, featured Bonnie Nickerson from the City of Providence, Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor from the State of Rhode Island and Christine West from Kite Architects. The panel of speakers focused specifically on the rise of Providence.
As the capital of Rhode Island, Providence is the third largest city in New England and is home to approximately 178,000 residents. Founded in 1636, Providence is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and considered one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution. Providence has remained a center of innovation and commerce and is now home to 18 hospitals and 12 institutions of higher learning. These nationally recognized education and medical institutions have helped to spur the growth of an economy tied to high tech, healthcare and creative industries. Once nicknamed the “Beehive of Industry,” Providence has experienced a dramatic shift in the city’s economy as the main industries are now health services, education and financial services. More than 12 educational institutions call the Providence area home, including Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Roger Williams University, Providence College, University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the New England Institute of Technology.
It is not until recently, however, that Providence’s true potential was realized. Stefan kicked off the event with a plethora of points on Rhode Island’s recent growth including:
– From 2014-2017 Rhode Island led the country in reducing unemployment
– Rhode Island is leading the way in the northeast with GDP growth
– 30 companies have announced that they are expanding or relocating to Rhode Island
Christine highlighted the two major zoning changes in late 2014 that made development more feasible in Providence. The first change was the removal of density restrictions, which now allows apartments to be smaller and more affordable. The second zoning change was a decrease in the required parking ratio, which unleashed a large amount of buildings, especially in the Jewelry District, that can be redeveloped.
Alden chimed in, “with this comes a lot of absorption… we expect the vacancy rate to be below 10% at the end of 2018.” Bonnie reinforced Alden’s prediction of Providence’s dropping vacancy rates by commenting on the expansion of the 12+ educational institutions in the Providence area. From building more housing to recruiting more companies, the city is harnessing the growth and talent of the universities in any way possible. Bonnie also said that most of the 250 mill complexes in the city have been converted to mixed-use properties and now developers are expanding to the mills in Pawtucket. Furthermore, Providence has been considered one of the nation’s finest culinary destinations, often surpassing larger cities for accolades and awards for outstanding restaurants and chefs. With this national culinary attention, Providence is seeing an emphasis on food businesses such as the new Greek Eataly called Yoleni’s.
Christine tackled Alden’s prompt to discuss the relationship between Providence and Boston. She started with, “Compared to Boston we have a lower cost of living and rents are high enough to justify housing development from historic restorations to new construction.”
Bonnie added that expanding the frequency and times of trains to Boston would make Providence a better live-work-play opportunity for residences and businesses. All panelists agreed that Rhode Island was a charming place to live in New England due to its beautiful beaches, vibrant culture and thriving visual and performing arts community. Furthermore, Rhode Island has emerged as one of New England’s top travel destinations, with more than 400 miles of coastline and 100 sandy beaches offered throughout the state.
Alden ended by asking the panelists what they would highlight about Rhode Island to developers, businesses looking to move to the state and even future residents. Bonnie said she would highlight the opportunity zones’ tax incentives. Within those areas there is incredible opportunity for growth. Christine would highlight the tremendous amount of opportunity because of the recent boom in Providence and the freed-up policy and infrastructure. She also touched on the friendly tight-knit community where if you need something done you are generally one or two phone calls away from making that happen.
For more information, reach out to our Providence market experts.