2018 was a particularly challenging year for the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, with the AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox (known as the PawSox, through 2020) indicating their plans to depart the municipality, the announced closure of Memorial Hospital, and the looming possibility of mainstay economic driver Hasbro relocating within or outside of the state.
Through all of this, however, Pawtucket mayor Don Grebien, presented a resolute attitude during a recent podcast conversation that I had with him. Grebien suggests that by pivoting towards new industries and infrastructure approaches, Pawtucket could return to its powerhouse glory days during the Industrial Revolution.
“(We have the) Apex building with our Slater Mill right there, and the national park. That will give us an opportunity for development. We've got our commuter rail coming in. That’s really a big project which is in our downtown and we see the spinoff happening. We're working with developers” the mayor told me, touting the forthcoming Pawtucket/Central Falls MBTA station, while touching on a variety of other specific infrastructure topics.
In the case of Memorial Hospital’s closure, Grebien indicated that Pawtucket was prepared to look beyond traditional, bulky hospital facilities, instead looking to implement what he described as “mini hospitals” or “treat and transports,” which would provide direct care within the community at a much lower cost than traditional in-patient and ER facilities.
Grebein also described a vast effort to renovate many of Pawtucket’s warehouse properties into livable spaces, though real estate markets and developers choices will impact how those projects rejuvenate - or disrupt - an emerging, revitalized Pawtucket.
While some may see the mayor squeezing lemonade out of a batch of rotten lemons, Grebien’s approach is wise, accurate, and one that other municipalities within the state should engage in.
Reshaping existing properties, improving existing parks, expanding public transit opportunities and creating new downtown vibrancy are all critical elements that most cities and towns would agree are central to their efforts. In the case of Grebien, he seems to have identified at least one specific project to undertake in each of these areas.
Refocusing healthcare on community-based formulas, telemedicine and regional expertise could establish Pawtucket as a broad healthcare and technology leader.
Not to mention, the mayor agreed with my assessment that Pawtucket has a diverse, experimental and vast arts community, which drives an underbelly, if not the foundation of the city.
Quite the opposite of conventional wisdom of late, Pawtucket may be in a prime position to once again lead Rhode Island and the region, but it will require a bold citizenry, leadership and a willingness to balance community with outside influence once word gets out that the mighty of the Blackstone River is once again moving the world forward.
Bill Bartholomew is a musician and podcast host based in Providence, RI. Hear him live on 990wbob.com every Tuesday at 6pm
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