Developer: Riverfront project a firm plan, not a proposal

Developer: Riverfront project a firm plan, not a proposal

Brett Johnson, right, with Gov. Gina Raimondo at the unveiling of the Tidewater Landing project in Pawtucket on Dec. 2.

Editor’s note: The Breeze will be diving into various aspects of the riverfront development plan in the coming weeks. We hope you’ll follow along.

PAWTUCKET – The three properties targeted for the city’s largest-ever development have a lengthy history of failed promises and unrealized riverfront dreams, but the man behind a planned $400 million development here says Tidewater Landing will change that narrative.

While some, perhaps jaded by the failed deal for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, are still treating this as a proposal needing to be vetted to proceed, Brett Johnson, of Fortuitous Partners, says it’s actually an approved plan with pieces already falling into place. Any hurdles needing to be overcome are easily surmountable, he says.

“It’s definitely moving forward,” Johnson told The Breeze. The amount of investment in the Tidewater Landing project to date has been considerable, the amount of support from “clearly committed” parties involved has been so overwhelming, and Johnson is so intent on following through, that this plan will happen, he says.

“This is personal in the most positive sense for me,” says Johnson of coming back to Rhode Island to help revitalize Pawtucket.

One of the questions Johnson said he knew would be answered before his development was announced last week was whether he could gather “an incredible investment group,” a goal he’s already seeing come to reality. His expectation at last week’s unveiling was for a frenzy of interest from investors, given the fact that the country is six years out from the World Cup and this is a chance at owning a stake in the fastest-growing professional sport in an “absolutely prime market,” but it’s been “exponentially greater” than he’d imagined. Those potential investors are looking to understand exactly what’s planned and how they could fit in.

He reiterated that this is the spot he would place a soccer stadium and surrounding development given the choice of any property in the state.

The remainder of a 120-day period for hashing out the details of this plan will be used to address a host of matters, but none of them, including cleanup of any contamination on the targeted sites, are seen as deal-breakers, said Johnson. He said the developers have already been in “fantastic dialogue” with National Grid, which owns the old Tidewater Gas Works across from Festival Pier on the Seekonk River. That property, targeted for a new United Soccer League stadium, is a former manufactured gas plant and electric facility responsible for heavy underground pollution.

National Grid has expressed support of the vision for the property, said Johnson, and without the project, the land would simply be cleaned up and fenced off. The city’s property at 45 Division St. also shouldn’t pose a problem, he said, as the city has been trying to attract development there for years.

Johnson said the goal is to work with both entities to begin site work on the two properties as soon as possible. The 120-day due diligence period will “focus solely on those two sites,” he said, with the developer targeting the purchase of the Apex property separately.

On one particular component of this project, Johnson said he and his partners have spent a lot of time developing a plan for a new pedestrian bridge that he said will not see the same kind of cost overruns experienced with a similar structure in nearby Providence. He expects to deliver an “outstanding walkway,” tying the two sides of the riverfront development together, for about $5 million.

Johnson said hundreds of people have reached out to him since the Dec. 2 announcement of the plan to convey their enthusiasm about it.

One of the most exciting aspects of this project is how much the developers plan to invest into local youth sports, said Johnson, not just soccer, but meeting the “insatiable demand” for field space for all sports.

“This is an asset for the community,” he said, re-emphasizing his hope to also redevelop McCoy Stadium into athletic field space.

Johnson said he is more than confident based on economic impact assessments that the vision for a stadium, hotel, event center, multi-family housing, retail, food and restaurants will more than bring back the public investment in the project.

The soccer team here will be “Rhode Island’s team,” he said, and he has no doubt that Pawtucket and the state as a whole will embrace it.

Local elected leaders have weighed in on the $400 million project. Here is a condensed version of what some of them had to say:

City Council President David Moran

“I think the potential for the Tidewater proposal is all-encompassing of what we are looking for in economic development in that area: a sports team with a facility that can host other events including concerts, commercial and retail development along the river, an events center assuming Apex is purchased at some point.

“This is the catalyst we have been looking forward towards bringing vitality back to Pawtucket. When you add in the impending opening of the train station, the sky is the limit as to what the ultimate transformation of Pawtucket will actually look like in the near future.”

Sen. Sandra Cano

“Despite recent hardships, Pawtucket has a lot of momentum behind it, and today’s wonderful announcement is proof that Pawtucket is as resilient as ever. When I sponsored the TIF (tax increment financing) legislation that enabled today’s announcement to become a reality, I did so because I recognized the potential Pawtucket has to redevelop and rejuvenate key districts within our city for the betterment of all of our residents. Today’s historic redevelopment announcement is the first step in this mission and I commend all of the stakeholders involved in order to bring this hope into reality.”

Rep. Carlos Tobon

“As the prime sponsor of the TIF legislation in the House, I saw the incredible importance of this bill to Pawtucket and its residents. With the loss of the PawSox, it’s more crucial than ever to redevelop assets that are dormant in our city, particularly in the downtown area. The Tidewater Landing development will give Pawtucket the crucial economic development needed to revitalize our city without costing taxpayers a dime.”