July 19, 2024


Food, couldn't ask for more.

Here’s why the Providence food pavilion has restaurant owners angry

PROVIDENCE — Plans for a $4-million pavilion adjacent to the pedestrian bridge that would include year-round food and drink service have some nearby restaurant owners crying foul. They say taxpayer money is being used to help private operators undercut their business.

The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission proposed the pavilion as part of upgrades to the 7-acre Innovation District Park along the Providence River. Armed with a consultant’s report that says the model has proven successful in cities around the country, the district leaders counter that providing food and beverages will help attract visitors and benefit the outlying restaurants.

“I think this will be transformative,” Caroline Skuncik, executive director of the I-195 Commission, told The Hummel Report in an interview earlier this month. “I think overall it will be very positive for the community.”

A $4-million open-space bond approved by voters in 2021 will pay for a new pavilion with restaurants and other amenities in this spot at Providence's Innovation District Park.

John Elkhay, who has operated a multitude of restaurants in Providence since 1986, responded: “It’s going to steal parking spots. And we’re already saturated. There’s everything you’d want to buy within a 10-block area.”

The restaurant owners also take issue with how the pavilion is being financed: with a $4-million “open space” bond that voters passed in a special election 16 months ago, part of a $74-million request for environmental and recreational projects across Rhode Island. Some of the restaurant owners say they voted for the bond, unaware of the specifics of what the I-195 District Commission planned to use it for. There was no mention of the word restaurant — and, they say, very little public discussion about the project until several months ago.