2014-01-10 / Around Town

Council Looks to Accelerate North End Innovation

By Tom Shevlin

The city’s efforts to redevelop the North End into a centerpiece for high-tech innovation is poised to take a significant step forward.

During their first meeting of the new year, City Councilors were due to take up a request on Jan. 8 to hire a consultant whose primary task will be to accelerate the realignment of the Pell Bridge interchange and make way for what might become the most significant economic development effort in a generation.

Dubbed the North End Innovation Hub, the proposal was outlined in a memo from City Manager Jane Howington and Director of Civic Investment Paul Carroll.

In it, the administration lays out a vision in which the North End is transformed into a research and development technology district that they hope will attract new and established environmental, defense, and digital industries.

Central to that design is the realignment of the Pell Bridge interchange, which has long been a source of frustration for state and city leaders alike. However, with limited funding and complex engineering required, the process has been slow to get off the ground.

In fact, it was June of 1999 when the Rhode Island Department of Transportation first solicited proposals for engineering services to complete the design of the bridge approach ramps and exits and eliminate the so-called "road to nowhere."

To the chagrin of all sides, the project hasn’t progressed much since then.

In order to help expedite the project, City Councilors were expected to approve a $150,000 grant award to Matrix Design Group to help identify opportunities to move the realignment effort “within a potentially quicker timeframe” than the 10-year schedule currently being eyed.

Matrix will be tasked with developing strategies to advise and provide a multi-agency public sector team comprised of city, state, and quasi-public agencies with the necessary support and expertise to bring the project to fruition.

In submitting his firm’s bid application, Matrix Design Group Principal Daniel Schnepf described his vision for the proposed business district as a “year-round campus of corporate and research offices that employ full-time and part-time technical and professional staff in a nationally–recognized waterfront setting.”

If the vision materializes, Schnepf predictes that the development will attract not only new high-tech firms to the area, but will also support businesses in the form of expanded retail, commercial, hotel, conference, residential and office facilities.

In short, he said, the development would be “a national model for creating relevant and important research on emerging and critical topics that generate the basis for stable and increased employment while supporting local and regional businesses.”

Carroll, who has been integral in moving the project forward, is expected to shed more light on this ambitious effort in the coming weeks.

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