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A point of contention on Providence’s big deal with its colleges

The campus of Brown University.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

It’s probably inevitable that Providence will finalize its payments-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements with its four private universities before the end of the year, but at least one hiccup has emerged.

In a letter to constituents over the weekend, City Council Finance Committee Chairwoman Helen Anthony wrote that Mayor Brett Smiley’s separate 10-year agreement with Brown University “should be considered separately” from the 20-year deal that includes Brown, RISD, Providence College, and Johnson & Wales.

The 20-year deal is fairly straightforward: The four tax-exempt colleges will pay the city $177 million over the next two decades. It’s similar to agreements negotiated by former mayors David Cicilline and Angel Taveras, and appears to have enough support on the council to sail through.


The 10-year deal with Brown is more complicated, or at least a lot more transactional, according to the Smiley administration. Brown is kicking in an extra $46 million, but the city is transferring ownership of four blocks in the Jewelry District and one on the East Side to the university, which already owns the buildings on those streets. Plus the city could reduce Brown’s payment if, say, the school built something that generates tax revenue.

The Smiley administration has asked the council to consider both agreements at the same time, but Anthony is an influential voice on the council, and the deals need approval from her Finance Committee before they can be voted on by the full council.

So what happens if the two agreements are vetted separately? Realistically, as long as both deals get done in a timely fashion, it’s unlikely that the 20-year deal would be in jeopardy.

But Anthony said she wants to see some of the language in the agreements “strengthened” (she didn’t elaborate). If the vetting process drags out and the council seeks to change the agreements, the road to passage could be rocky.


In a statement this week, Brown University spokesman Brian Clark said the school administration expects and encourages the council to approve both agreements jointly and simultaneously.

”The two proposed agreements emerged from a thoughtful and comprehensive set of conversations, and they represent a coordinated set of voluntary contributions from the four institutions to the city,” Clark said. “The commitments outlined in Brown’s individual MOA are designed to complement the larger multi-party agreement.”

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via email Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.