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The following op-ed was written by Erin Donovan-Boyle, Executive Director, Newport County Chamber of Commerce
As the Newport City Council prepares to hear a proposed ordinance implementing a 6 month moratorium on economic development in the Innovation District, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce and its Board of Directors want to express concern that this movement will not only adversely impact the businesses that currently own real estate or operate active businesses in that area, but we believe it sends the wrong anti-business message to the broader community. This current proposal halts progress in the area related to known projects, and it is a blunt instrument that discourages investment and growth in the region for future projects. We fear that this moratorium will have adverse effects far greater and longer than the 6 months being proposed.
We are at an integral time in the City’s history, where we have the opportunity to shape the community for years to come. With the proposals for bridge ramp realignment scheduled to come out in the coming months and significant acreage becoming available, investors are interested in helping the City meet its vision of connecting the North End with the downtown district, expanding to the waterfront, and creating an Innovation District that will diversify the local economy, create jobs and careers, and enhance the tax base. Now is the time for Newport to be utilizing tools like Tax Incremental Financing and Opportunity Zone designations to attract investment and business development – not halting this momentum that we have all been working toward for over a decade.
The work that has been done on the design and development of the Innovation District is extensive. The public has been engaged throughout the processes around the adoption of the City’s 2017 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the 2017 Open Space Plan, the 2015 North End Vision Plan, the 2006 North End Master Plan and the 2005 West Side Master Plan. Community input and feedback have been expressed and captured in all of those documents. It is time for action. Additionally, there are tremendous opportunities for public comment to be heard throughout the planning and zoning processes that exist in current statute as projects get vetted. The tools are already in place to ensure the size, scope and specifics of a project be thoroughly considered and in line with the will of the community.
The City and State have been working hard to diversify its economy by helping businesses to start and grow in this region, as well as to attract other investment to help support and sustain the broader community. The Chamber has been part of that initiative and we fear those efforts will be significantly undermined if a moratorium for any length of time were to be put in place. At a time when state and local efforts have been dedicated to changing the landscape through business development tools and programs to help improve the business climate in the state, it is proposals like this that keep Rhode Island’s business friendly ratings at the bottom of the country’s rankings.
We urge the Council to vote against a moratorium on economic development.