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Booming Providence Seeks To Lure Business From Boston

March 2, 1987

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ A billboard along Boston’s often-clogged Southeast Expressway bears a cartoon drawing of a traffic jam and touts the capital of Rhode Island as ″A city that works.″

Behind the light-hearted swipe at Boston’s chronic traffic congestion is the hope that some of that bustle will leave Beantown for Providence, 40 miles south.

By promoting its accessibility, affordability and quality of life, Providence hopes to get a bigger slice of New England’s plump economic pie by luring business from Boston.

″We have a nice story to tell now, and we’re on a roll,″ Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. said.

The city, emerging from the shadow of corruption probes, is getting a dramatic facelift designed to bring in growth industries to replace declining manufacturing firms.

An improved political climate has set the stage for development, Paolino said in a recent interview. ″Our problem with corruption is over,″ he said.

More than 20 people have been indicted for alleged municipal corruption during the administration of former Mayor Vincent A. ″Buddy″ Cianci Jr. No corruption charges have been lodged against Cianci, but he was forced to resign in April 1984 after he pleaded no contest to assaulting a man he suspected of having an affair with his estranged wife.

Paolino points outside City Hall to Kennedy Plaza, a bus hub flanked by banks, office buildings and a small park. The plaza is anchored by the Omni Biltmore hotel, one of several recently renovated historic downtown buildings.

Near the plaza is the $100 million Capital Center, a project that will open up more than 30 acres of land by moving the Amtrak station and redirecting two downtown rivers.

Paolino said the city’s small-town atmosphere is good for development efforts.

″In Providence, you’re going to be a big fish in a small pond,″ Paolino said. ″If you have a problem, pick up the phone and call the mayor. I’ll answer your call. I’ll even name a street after them if that’s what it takes to get them into the city.″

Vacant office space is still abundant, but leasing agents say interest is growing.

″Many Boston executives are excited about Providence and want to open a satellite here,″ said Marianne Jardine, leasing representative for the new Fleet Center, an office tower overlooking Kennedy Plaza.

The Codman Co. Inc., a Boston real estate giant, says it has several clients interested in Providence.

″The billboard on the Southeast Expressway says it all,″ said Charles L. Clark, Codman’s research director.

″It’s hard not to look at Providence and in the long run see a major revitalization,″ he said, citing relatively inexpensive housing and office space, a good pool of available workers and access to major highways.

Paolino said the ad campaign, paid for by the city and local businesses, is not meant to slight Boston.

″It’s all in fun,″ he said. ″We think Boston is a great city. I just think it’s hit the limit in terms of development.″

Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, a former Providence College basketball star, ″wished us luck and said Providence was his second-favorite city,″ Paolino said.

Billboard notwithstanding, Paolino’s hope is that Providence will begin to look a little more like Boston.

″I want traffic jams downtown,″ Paolino said.

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