Public Services

McKee and RIPTA search for partner to privatize the bus hub, gentrify area

Governor McKee and CEO Avedisian most likely issued a press release rather than hold a press conference to avoid the kinds of questions a reporter or member of the public might ask.
Photo for McKee and RIPTA search for partner to privatize the bus hub, gentrify area

Published on May 12, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee today announced that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) has taken the first step in making the proposed Dorrance Street Transit Center in Downtown Providence a reality. The process, which began this morning with the state transit agency publishing an on-line “Request for Expressions of Interest” (REOI) is designed to lure private developers across the country to enter into a public-private partnership with the state, essentially privatizing the downtown bus hub. Public opinion and concerns have been disregarded.

In the press release, the McKee administration says that the proposed Dorrance Street Transit Center “has garnered broad-based public support.” This is a lie. In fact, the majority of bus riders in a recent poll said that they preferred to have the bus hub stay in Kennedy Plaza. The only real support for the project comes from downtown developers and landowners (and the politicians, like Governor McKee, they have co-opted) who want to eliminate working people and people of color from Kennedy Plaza as part of a plan to gentrify downtown Providence.

Despite public opposition, the end was never in doubt, as RIPTA officials, the McKee Administration and elected legislators refused to take the public seriously, forcing this plan through.

See:

“The Dorrance Street Transit Center is one more important part of our commitment to restore and revitalize Downtown Providence while we create the best possible transit experience for riders,” said Governor McKee in a statement. “This initiative is part of our larger vision for Providence, and our state, that includes our efforts to breathe new life into the [Industrial Trust] Building. Rhode Island has the momentum – we’re committed to keeping it going.”

It’s not a coincidence that this announcement comes the day after the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation approved nearly $20 million in funding to go to private developer High Rock Westminster LLC to restore the former Industrial Trust Building downtown. Restoring that building and moving Kennedy Plaza are two halves of the same project.

“We are excited to be taking this first official step toward creating a state-of-the-art transit center that our passengers deserve,” said RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian in a statement. “The Dorrance Street Transit Center will dramatically improve the passenger experience in downtown Providence, while also accommodating for a growing transit system.”

Governor McKee and CEO Avedisian most likely issued a press release rather than hold a press conference to avoid the kinds of questions a reporter or member of the public might ask.

From the press release:

The REOI invites interested parties from the private sector to submit concepts for the development of the new Transit Center under a joint development or public-private-partnership (P3) arrangement. The REOI is designed to gauge initial industry interest in the development opportunity, as well as to seek industry perspective and feedback on diverse project considerations. From there, the responses will help RIPTA plan and execute the Project.

Disturbingly, RIPTA does not seem to understand that public-private partnerships are a form of privatization. See: Proposed bus hub to rely on privatization for funding – What are we giving away in the process?

The Dorrance Street Transit Center will replace Kennedy Plaza as RIPTA’s central bus depot. The proposal envisions a mixed-use development that will include an enclosed intermodal transit center and RIPTA administrative offices, as well as an adjacent mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD). In contrast to the current sprawling footprint of Kennedy Plaza, spread out across an urban park, the Transit Center will provide a single organized location.

Initially serving three million transit users annually, and considering anticipated growth, the transit center will feature a state-of-the-art passenger arrival and seating area with amenities and multi-modal accommodations for bicyclists. RIPTA is also weighing the creation of a public meeting space with an open-air terrace, as well as other amenities to serve the community at large. Additionally, the project is envisioned to include a multistory, mixed-use TOD development with first-floor retail and residential space on the upper floors, offering economic development opportunities for the city. The project may be implemented on a phased basis, in which case the new intermodal facility would be the top priority (Phase 1).

RIPTA has been engaged in numerous discussions over the past six months with state, local, and community leaders about the possibility of building a new, multistory, and mixed-use transit center at the intersection of Dorrance and Dyer Streets. The proposal has garnered broad-based public support.

The timeline for the effort has been expedited, at the direction of Governor McKee, with the deadline for submissions set for Monday, June 20, 2022. Prior to that, a virtual Industry Forum is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, 2022 where RIPTA, its advisors, and other sponsors of the Transit Center will present an overview of the Project for interested parties.

While details are continuing to be finalized, RIPTA currently envisions that following a competitive procurement, a single developer will be engaged under a joint development agreement for the design, construction, financing, operation, and/or maintenance of both the intermodal transit center and the multistory, mixed-use TOD development. RIPTA will retain ownership of the site, with a developer operating the facility under a ground lease.

RIPTA will define the public’s requirements for the Transit Center, but will seek to leverage private sector innovation and expertise in the design and construction of the facility. RIPTA will be responsible for its own operations at the new Transit Center, but the developer will be responsible for facility management and non-RIPTA operations (including commercial concessions) over the term of the agreement.

For more on the dangers of P3s and privatization see:

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