Change com­ing down the tracks

Pawtucket, C.F. seek pub­lic in­put on pro­pos­als for com­muter rail sta­tion, Co­nant Thread dis­trict de­vel­op­ment

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BIS­SON­NETTE jbis­son­nette@paw­tuck­et­times.com

– The 150acre Co­nant Thread dis­trict and planned com­muter rail sta­tion is be­ing touted by of­fi­cials as a once-in-a-life­time de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­nity that will trans­form the area on the Pawtucket and Cen­tral Falls bor­der into a “sec­ond ur­ban cen­ter for the State of Rhode Is­land.”

Now, plan­ners want to know what the pub­lic thinks about the project.

The dis­trict com­prises 150 acres of land in both Pawtucket and Cen­tral Falls, in­clud­ing 4 mil­lion square feet for de­vel­op­ment, with an­other 4 mil­lion square feet nearby in down­town Pawtucket.

The Co­nant Thread dis­trict will be a “mixed-use ur­ban vil­lage” that of­fi­cials say will at­tract trendy restau­rants, start-up busi­nesses, eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, and pub­lic ameni­ties.

The dis­trict’s bor­ders stretch north to Mowry Street in Cen­tral Falls and south to Church Street in Pawtucket. Its bor­der to the east is Dex­ter Street and Lons­dale Av­enue to the west.

Wed­nes­day’s pub­lic fo­rum was held in­side Isle Brew­ers Guild on Main Street, which is within the Co­nant Thread dis­trict just around the cor­ner from the pro­posed com­muter rail sta­tion.

Jeff Davis, a project plan­ner with en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­tant Hors­ley Wit­ten Group of Sand­wich, Mass., was at Wed­nes­day’s fo­rum to lis­ten to pub­lic com­ment on what they’d like to see in the dis­trict. He set up a se­ries of poster boards, on which peo­ple could place stick­ers next to items and ameni­ties that in­ter­ested them – such as of­fice space, af­ford­able hous­ing, and restau­rants.

“We’re ask­ing peo­ple to think about the dif­fer­ent types of uses,” Davis said.

With this in­for­ma­tion, Davis and the team at Hors­ley Wit­ten Group will get a sense of how zon­ing or­di­nances should be writ­ten for the dis­trict, to meet the needs of the pub­lic and po­ten­tial cus­tomer base. Get­ting the zon­ing taken care of is one of the first steps of plan­ning for the dis­trict and Davis es­ti­mated it would be drafted by sum­mer.

“This is the very be­gin­ning of a pub­lic process … I imag­ine we’ll hear about qual­ity of life is­sues and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment en­gines,” Davis said.

As for the 150-acre dis­trict, Davis sees huge po­ten­tial in its fu­ture, say­ing it’s al­most a blank slate at the mo­ment.

In Rhode Is­land, Davis said, tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment has not quite taken off – out­side of down­town Prov­i­dence – and that’s why he sees so much de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial in the Pawtucket and Cen­tral Falls dis­trict.

“The as­set of the train sta­tion will be a boon for busi­nesses, a great op­por­tu­nity,” Davis said.

Pawtucket Plan­ning Di­rec­tor Su­san Mara said that the train sta­tion will be put out to bid later this month and that’s why Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon’s fo­rum was a “good time to reach out” to the com­mu­nity to re­ceive some feed­back on what they’d like to see in the over­all dis­trict.

Jan Brodie, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Pawtucket Foun­da­tion, mean­while, said the fo­rum not only served as a way to find out what the pub­lic wanted to see, but also as a way to put the con­cept of a com­muter rail sta­tion and tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment back in the minds of the pub­lic. The last pub­lic hear­ing on the sta­tion was nearly two years ago, and Brodie said it was safe to as­sume there would be ques­tions about where the project was go­ing.

Whether it was con­ver­sa­tions about how pedes­trian- or bi­cy­cle-friendly the dis­trict could be to dis­cussing the po­ten­tial for park­ing at the train sta­tion site, the in­tent of the fo­rum was to al­lay fears that the sta­tion and dis­trict could be­come some­thing that was not con­sis­tent with the mis­sion that was stated when the project first got on track, Brodie said.

The com­muter rail sta­tion will af­ford a di­rect con­nec­tion via Mas­sachusetts Bay Trans­porta­tion Author­ity trains to Prov­i­dence, T.F. Green Air­port, and Wick­ford Junc­tion sta­tions, plus mul­ti­ple stops en route to South Sta­tion in Bos­ton. The Rhode Is­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion ex­pects to award a de­sign-build con­tract for the sta­tion this sum­mer, with ground­break­ing sched­uled for later this year and open­ing slated for 2020.

The $40 mil­lion project is funded largely through the ef­forts of the state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion to se­cure $13.1 mil­lion through the fed­eral Trans­porta­tion In­vest­ment Gen­er­at­ing Eco­nomic Re­cov­ery grant pro­gram. Pawtucket and Cen­tral Falls are each chip­ping in $3 mil­lion.

Pawtucket Mayor Don­ald R. Gre­bien said there was a sense of en­thu­si­asm in­side Isle Brew­ers dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s fo­rum and part of that stemmed from the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the cities of Pawtucket and Cen­tral Falls. That col­lab­o­ra­tion is seen in the for­ma­tion of a joint Plan­ning Com­mis­sion be­tween the two mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which seeks to max­i­mize the dis­trict’s po­ten­tial and open op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­use of the va­cant mill build­ings within.

Cen­tral Falls Mayor James A. Diossa said it was a tes­ta­ment to the work go­ing on be­tween the two ur­ban cities.

“We know if it works in Cen­tral Falls, it will ben­e­fit Pawtucket and if it works in Pawtucket, it will ben­e­fit Cen­tral Falls,” Diossa said. “This is why this project is ex­tremely im­por­tant, not just the train sta­tion but the Pawsox sta­dium.”

An in­ter­ac­tive web­site tout­ing the dis­trict launched on­line Wed­nes­day at www.co­nant­thread.com.

Artist’s ren­der­ing

A VHB ren­der­ing of the con­cept for the Pawtucket/Cen­tral Falls com­muter rail sta­tion project.

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