2015-12-23 / Front Page

North End Vision Progresses

By Barry Bridges

The Newport City Council has finalized an agreement with a global consortium that will serve as the city’s primary adviser and strategic partner in taking a closer look at the development possibilities in the North End.

The Infralinx Capital-led Consortium, which was the successful bidder in an RFP issued in September, will aid the city in finding ways to finance the costs of designing, constructing, and operating desired North End projects.

The consortium is made up of Infralinx Capital, the Louis Berger Group, and Gilbane Corp., and will embark with the city upon a “highly cooperative and collaborative effort to engage their innovation, private sector resources, entrepreneurial skills, risk sharing capabilities, management capabilities, technical and financial expertise, and private sector relationships.”

There are several proposed North End projects whose feasibility will be examined, including the Resiliency Innovation Hub, the development of the Naval Hospital site, cyber security efforts, green job initiatives, and micro lofts or mini apartments. The council has previously emphasized that a major component of the city’s goal of economic diversification and job creation will be through the development of an innovation hub. And, as the Pell Bridge ramp realignment is considered “integral to the overall success of the city’s resilience initiatives,” it is required to be among those first undertaken.

The “pre-development agreement” approved by councilors requires $500,000 in “seed money” from the city to finance initial efforts. But the agreement provides for the possible recapture of those funds as endeavors move forward successfully, along with potential additional financial returns to the city in the future.

Remaining funding needed for projects will come from the private companies brought on by the consortium.

The contract deliverables are expected to be accomplished in two parts. In the first “development phase” to be completed by April 1, the consortium will analyze and identify the most promising efforts. “The consortium will focus immediately on identifying the first three best projects so as to achieve early success,” the agreement specifies.

Phase two will consist of a “concession period,” where the consortium will have the right to negotiate contracts with companies or entities that wish to finance, develop and operate the projects identified. The city will aid in ways such as securing the appropriate cityowned land and expediting permitting.

The council enthusiastically approved the arrangement at its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

Councilor John Florez kicked off comments from the dais. “I find it really fitting that the very last action that we’re going to vote on as a council [this year] is also going to be, arguably, the most important one. One of the biggest challenges that we face as a community is how to change our economy from a mainly tourist-driven seasonal economy into a year-round diversified economy with a broader set of jobs. This is it. This is the solution.”

“But this is just the start,” he continued.

“By no means is this automatic. We still have a long way to go, but this seed money really gets things started.”

Interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson agreed that substantial work lies ahead. “Phase one of this agreement is clear, but phase two has some difficulties in that there’s a lot of activity that we have to participate in to get where we want to go.”

Second Ward Councilor Lynn Ceglie commended the “very bold and creative” plan.

Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said, “Obviously I’ve been supportive of this direction for several years.” As for the North End trajectory, she said, “So we’re on this curve, we’re learning as we go, we’ve been at it for three years and it’s time for the rubber to meet the road. We’re making an investment… in year-round stable employment, year-round income for people.”

She reiterated the importance of a first-class educational system to feed students into the North End jobs of the future.

Napolitano concluded, “I’m very proud to still be here after all this time because I know it’s taken a long time to talk about the development of the North End, one of the last places in the city of Newport that we can develop. I feel an energy and a synergy, and we need to keep it going.”

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