My colleague Ed Fitzpatrick is taking a much-deserved vacation this week, so I filled in as host of the Rhode Island Report podcast and interviewed Providence Mayor Brett Smiley.
The mayor made plenty of news on the show, including offering his thoughts on when the city’s public schools should return to local control, the future of PVDFest, and what he wants for the Cranston Street Armory.
You should listen here. And you’ll never miss an episode if you subscribe to Rhode Island Report on Apple Podcasts.
Here’s a quick recap.
Smiley said he still expects to regain control of the city’s schools during his tenure as mayor (if he’s reelected in 2026, he would serve through 2030), but he doesn’t believe it will be by the beginning of the 2024-2025 school year. He said he thinks the city needs at least a year to prepare for the transition, which hasn’t started yet. He said that the summer of 2025 or 2026 is more likely.
The mayor also said he’d like to be involved in the next round of contract negotiations with the Providence Teachers Union. Since the beginning of the takeover, those negotiations have been handled by the state.
The mayor has offered nothing but praise for the four private colleges that have agreed to pay the city more than $200 million in lieu of property taxes over the next 20 years, but he isn’t holding back his frustration with Lifespan, the only large nonprofit institution in the city that doesn’t have a payment agreement in place with his administration. Smiley said he has a meeting on the books for October with John Fernandez, the hospital system’s new president and CEO.
Smiley said he doesn’t have regrets about this year’s rain-soaked PVDFest, but he was disappointed that some of the artists didn’t get to perform in front of larger crowds. As he evaluates the future of the city’s annual arts and music festival, he said that he would be open to a separate non-city entity running the event – similar to large-scale events like South by Southwest.
That’s not to say that the city would wipe its hands of the festival, which would still need plenty of financial support. But Smiley said that handing the reins over to a new organization might help with continuity rather than having a new mayor come in every few years and make changes.
Cranston Street Armory
The Smiley administration is still discussing the possibility of taking the Cranston Street Armory off the state’s hands, but the mayor maintains that any agreement would require tens of millions of dollars from the state. Smiley did say he would be open to moving forward with the redevelopment proposal from the Philadelphia-based company that the state cut ties with over the summer.
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