Downcity Residents Should Support the Core Connector and the Tax Makes Sense

September 26, 2011

As a resident of Downcity, I have been closely following the development of Providence’s Core Connector Study. The official route and payment options have now been proposed, as reported in the Projo.


I’m pleased to see that they prioritized frequent service through the main ridership areas (College Hill to Jewelry District and hospital) were prioritized over service to the train station. Jef Nickerson says it best over at GCPVD– the train station is out-of-the-way and would dramatically increase rider time while having unclear implications for ridership, and the station is already very well served (and could easily be better served) by existing bus routes. The streetcar is really about moving people within Providence and providing a permanency to the connectivity between the current (Brown and hospital) and hopefully future (Jewelry District) economic engines of the city.

The proposed route uses Washington and Empire Street– both are wise choices. Washington Street adds the Biltmore, Lupos, URI, and AS220 directly to the route while keeping the Convention Center and the Dunk near by. Washington also has the advantage of a direct route over 95 for a possible South-Westward expansion in the future with limited cost and slow downs due to a lack of turns. Empire Street is also a great choice. The road is only about to undergo construction to be expanded for two-way traffic (one of the last legs of the Downtown Circulator project). The corner of Washington and Empire anchors the streetcar at the Providence Central Library, Trinity Rep, AS220, 38 Studios, and Hasbro’s new Downcity location. Regency Plaza adds more residential ridership and the massive parking lot across from the Hilton suddenly looks more attractive for infill development. It doesn’t hurt that I live at Westminster and Empire and would be excellently served by this location. Overall, I believe this path through Downcity is the easiest to manage while anchoring the streetcar near major hubs of activity. I only wish they could have found a way to bring the streetcar down Westminster and close the street to personal vehicle traffic, but that was never a likely option.

The Jewelry District part of the route never seemed as controversial to me because there were limited solutions that ¬†were¬†somewhat obvious. The decision to use Chestnut makes sense and solidifies the Westminster-Chestnut Street path as a strong North-South connector through the area. Not going all the way to Prairie Avenue is likely going to anger some Upper South Providence residents, but I’m not convinced this is a bad thing. At the Knowledge District Development Framework meeting it was clear that increasing paucity between the two sides of Prairie Avenue was a major goal of development in the hospital area. Forcing people to walk a bit on Dudley Street may generate the kind of foot traffic needed to make infill in that area with first floor retail a lot more attractive.

The Tax

I’m in favor of it. This one is a no-brainer in my mind. Property values will certainly increase in the areas being served by the streetcar and therefore current owners stand to have some significant gains in equity if this project moves forward. The attractiveness of living where I am has increased tremendously for Brown faculty and staff, medical students, and some of the entrepreneurs and their employees if they ever materialize in the Jewelry District. That I should have to contribute some of this gained equity back to get the project built makes sense. The question is, will the requested tax be too high to be worth it? So let’s do the math. The proposal will hit me with \$0.95 on every \$1,000 of property value. Let’s assume that the homestead exemption will not be applied to this tax. Let’s also assume that I’m looking at a 15 year stay Downcity. This is reasonable because most of the properties around here are condos that are one or two bedroom and are not attractive to folks with families– we’re filled with young folks and empty-nesters who aren’t likely to be looking at this like a 30 year investment. Let’s also assume that the economy will continue to stagnate over this period so we only see an inflation rate of, say, 2%. It’s likely that this is an overly pessimistic estimate that will increase the cost. What I’m interested in is the present discounted value, or the cost to me due to this tax if I were to incur it all up front. The theory goes that money today is worth more than money tomorrow because money depreciates in value due to inflation and because money today can be invested and will grow over time. We calculate PDV much like you would calculate compound interest. The final piece of data to calculate the PDV needed is my home value. Let’s assume it hasn’t moved at all since I purchased about a year ago, which would peg my condo at \$168,000. Now I want to know if the PDV of the tax will exceed what I believe is a reasonable estimate for the increase in equity I will realize because of the project. And the PDV is…


I think it would be hard to argue that my property value won’t increase at least 1.2% because of this project. Adding the line, “Steps to the Providence Streetcar that will take you to Brown’s Medical School, through the Knowledge District, and to the Hospitals or through Downcity to RISD and Brown,” is going to be worth more than that, period. I can’t imagine the calculus is dramatically different for other Downcity property owners which means for us, this makes “cents”.