2018-05-03 / Front Page

Innovate Newport Breaks Ground

By Leif Walcutt

Innovation Hub roof deck. (Rendering by Newport Tech Works) Innovation Hub roof deck. (Rendering by Newport Tech Works) A groundbreaking ceremony and press conference on April 30 marked the beginning of construction for the Innovate Newport Project at the former Sheffield School.

“This project is all about innovation,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told the attendees. “Tourism is important and we support that, but it’s about innovation and jobs of the future, high growth, entrepreneurship, thinking out of the box. You deserve a lot of credit for being so forward thinking.”

The city of Newport awarded a $6 million contract to Pezzuco Construction of Cranston for the Innovate Newport Project. Collaborators of the project include Newport, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Fund of Rhode Island (EDFRI).

This was not the first groundbreaking ceremony at the Sheffield School site. “We had a groundbreaking back in 2014, and then we went out and got the money,” Mayor Harry Winthrop said.

“Now we can have the real groundbreaking. I’d like to look at what’s happening here as a precursor to our development in the North End of the city of Newport,” he said.

The 33,000-square-foot building will create working spaces for entrepreneurs and startups, in addition to private suites for small companies. The first confirmed tenant is the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, which is currently operating out of 35 Valley Road.

“It’s really the business leaders who have done this for the chamber,” said Erin Donovan-Boyle, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. “We couldn’t be more excited about these developments.”

The concept for Innovate Newport is to utilize the technology and expertise in the region’s defense sector for commercial applications. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center has been cited by the Newport County Chamber of Commerce as being a major contributor.

“The idea of creating spaces for entrepreneurs and startups, particularly in defense, marine, cyber and digital sectors, is incredibly important for the economy in the 21st century,” said Rep. David Cicilline.

Also speaking at the event were Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor and Newport City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr.

“I can’t wait until this is a hub of activity for economic development and jobs,” Whitehouse said. “I think we can be confident about that. Congratulations to all involved; our long trip has seemed to have reached its destination.”

Raimondo said that the project will add 184 full-time jobs to the local economy, more than $25 million in economic output and $50,000 in annual state tax revenue.

“This was an all hands on deck effort,” Raimondo said. “When we started working together a few years ago, we had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Now we have more people working than ever in our state’s history.”

Sheffield School was targeted as a prime location for the innovation center because of a statewide initiative to repair and rebuild public school buildings across Rhode Island.

“People ask me, ‘What do we do with the old buildings?’” Magaziner said. “This is example number one of what is possible and a great thing that you can do to drive economic growth, drive job creation in your community.”

Innovate Newport will also feature a ground-level cafe for public and community use, as well as a large presentation and events space.

The building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony is expected to be in December.

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