2015-12-31 / Front Page

Slots Site Seen Vital to City

By Tom Walsh

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, from Newport's District 13, is proud of the new public pier at Fort Adams State Park. “Investment in a new pier enables us to attract world-class events to Newport and enhances public access to the bay,” she said. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, from Newport's District 13, is proud of the new public pier at Fort Adams State Park. “Investment in a new pier enables us to attract world-class events to Newport and enhances public access to the bay,” she said. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, believes that development of the city’s North End is the most important issue facing city officials as the calendar moves forward from 2015 to 2016.

Paiva Weed, who in 2009 became the first-ever woman to attain the Rhode Island Senate presidency, said in a year-end interview with Newport this Week that the future of the current Newport Grand site on Admiral Kalbfus Road will be vitally important to the city’s future should Tiverton voters, as well as voters statewide, approve a November, 2016, referendum to allow Twin River Management Group to move the operation there.

In 2014, Newport received $780,726 in revenue from Newport Grand. That was the combined total of receipts from the slots parlor’s gambling handle and real estate taxes.

“I have been expressing my belief to city officials as to the importance of the future of that property,” she said. “I have been talking and working with [interim City Manager] Joe Nicholson and Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano in a thoughtful way.”

Pressed for specifics, the Senate president said that she could not elaborate since the land is private property. However, she added, “It’s important that we continue to work together on this. I don’t want to see that property become a parking lot for downtown. So it’s important that we have these discussions. There could be an opportunity for mixed uses of that property. We’ll need to see what the options are.”

Paiva Weed’s remarks came soon after the Newport City Council entered into an agreement with a global consortium that will serve as the city’s primary advisor and strategic partner in looking closely at North End development possibilities.

“A private party purchasing this property would do an analysis to see what would be successful there,” Paiva Weed said. “As I go around the city, it seems as though everyone has a different idea. I’m open to having a lively discussion that produces a variety of different ideas.”

In another local political matter, Paiva Weed said she would like to see Nicholson remain as the city’s permanent city manager. Nicholson declined to become a candidate for the permanent position as a steering committee evaluates 73 applicants. The City Council will begin right after the first of the year to interview candidates recommended by the panel.

“Joe’s done a remarkable job,” Paiva Weed said of Nicholson. She said she hopes that Nicholson will change his mind. “He knows and loves the city, has worked in city government and would be an excellent city manager.”

Paiva Weed, who indicated she plans to seek re-election to her District 13 Senate seat next year, said her biggest 2015 frustration involved the Assembly’s inability to enact Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s $1.1 billion toll plan pertaining to so-called big-rig trucks that would repair Rhode Island’s highways and bridges, considered among the most decrepit in the nation. The Senate passed legislation to put the governor’s plan into practice. The House, however, did not.

“Meanwhile,” she said, “bridges and roads badly in need of repairs continue to get more costly to repair or replace.” She said these same truck companies are already paying taxes to pay for bridge and road upkeep in other states, and feels that they would be largely unfazed were Rhode Island to adopt a similar program.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, has called for more information about the Raimondo truck toll plan, including sites where gantries would be placed. The speaker’s reluctance to move the bill in the House begs the question of how he and the Senate leader get along.

“We have a healthy tension,” Paiva Weed said of her relationship with Mattiello. “The speaker and I work well together, as evidenced by the passage of the budget and other significant legislation, not the least of which was pension reform. However, historically there has always been a healthy tension between the House and Senate. We are both strong leaders of our respective bodies. We have different concerns. I would be more concerned if we agreed on everything.”

As for reaching a compromise on the truck toll proposal, the Senate president said, “The governor, speaker and I continue to talk. I anticipate we’ll reach a compromise because we all agree on the goal. The only disagreement is how we pay for it.”

The General Assembly abruptly adjourned its 2015 session last June 25, leaving behind numerous measures that needed either House or Senate approval for enactment. Among those was a Paiva Weed bill to establish a performance based funding component to state aid for Rhode Island’s colleges. The bill died in the House.

Of that bill, Paiva Weed said, “It took a lot to bring the unions and the college presidents together on this.” The measure, which would establish a funding formula that would embrace the performancebased funding concept, will almost certainly be revived in 2016. Of the manner in which her bill expired in 2015, the Senate president said, “You have to end the discussion at some point.”

What else might we see from the Assembly in 2016?

The Senate president predicted there will be an attempt to “level the playing field” pertaining to taxi service in Rhode Island. In Newport, this issue has emerged as a battle between Orange Cab, a traditional taxi service, and Uber, a San Francisco-based company that provides a phone app to connect drivers with riders for a fee.

Paiva Weed said legislation would be submitted to make cab companies subject to the same regulations. Uber competitors have complained that Uber has not been subject to regulations that apply to other cab companies and therefore enjoys an unfair advantage. She said the same thing was done in Massachusetts by the governor’s executive order. “I don’t know whether the governor would do an executive order here,” the Senate leader said.

She pledged to keep working in 2016 to boost tourism in Newport and all of Rhode Island. “Tourism is a vital part of Newport’s economy,” she said. “Newport is the crown jewel of the state’s tourism packet.”

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