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OpportunitySpace RI opens doors to city-owned properties
By Chris Barnett / June 18, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

Four municipalities have launched an on-line database of government-owned properties that will enable them to better manage their real estate portfolios, promote transparency by giving the public easy access to the data and jumpstart community redevelopment by making it easier to find properties that need reinvestment.

OpportunitySpace RI includes maps, info about taxes and zoning, key contacts and photos of more than 2,000 local-, state-, federal- and quasi-governmental-agency -owned properties in Central Falls, Cumberland, Pawtucket and Providence. The listings include government buildings, vacant lots, recreational areas and small slivers of land.  In addition, the cities of Central Falls and Providence have also listed hundreds of tax-delinquent properties.

Funders including the Rhode Island Foundation hope more municipalities adopt the initiative.

“Regional partnerships make perfect sense in a state our size.  This database makes it easy for businesses to find properties that meet their needs,” says Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

OpportunitySpace RI collects property information from many departments in one place and makes it easy to use with intuitive design. The database includes properties for sale by municipal redevelopment agencies and tax-lien sale properties, which have been mapped for the first time.

The website also took the Blackstone River Valley Corridor Plan and translated it into a digital interface so that interested developers can see how planned infrastructure investments relate to available parcels.

“We are excited to launch OpportunitySpace RI in partnership with municipal staff to maximize the economic and social potential of public land,” said Cristina Garmendia, co-founder of OpportunitySpace, the Boston-based technology company at the Harvard Innovation Lab that developed the website. “Through better access to information, we bring together government, developers, investors, community groups, and citizens to enable smarter decision-making and strategic investments.”

Municipal leaders believe the website will have many benefits, including generating conversations about publicly owned property. 

“Information hubs like Opportunity Space will continue increasing transparency in municipal government and establish competitive processes for developing or selling our city-owned properties,” said Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa. “By highlighting these properties, Opportunity Space is also empowering our residents to speak up and take ownership of what they want to see in our community.”

“Having an open and transparent online clearinghouse of publicly owned parcels will allow for town officials to have quicker and more efficient interactions with developers about possible investments and economic development opportunities that may have been overlooked in the past,” said Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee.

“By cooperating with other communities, we can leverage our resources to attract maximum marketing exposure and economic development interest,” said Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien.

“Marketing available real estate is a key goal of my economic development plan, Putting Providence Back to Work,” said Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. “We are pleased to join this effort to create a regional inventory of properties that are available for development. We are working to ensure that when businesses look to invest, opportunities in Providence are at their fingertips.”

Funding for OpportunitySpace RI includes $1,500 apiece from Central Falls and Cumberland, $1,500 from Pawtucket through the Pawtucket Foundation; $4,000 from Providence, $7,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation and $10,000 from the Sunlight Foundation.

“We have met with the Urban Land Institute, developers, realtors and the business community. They are all excited about the possibility of having a navigable and searchable, one-stop listing of public properties,” said Aaron Hertzberg, executive director of the Pawtucket Foundation, which advocates for and encourages revitalization efforts.

Additional support was provided by the Counselors of Real Estate Foundation to support research and the Ocean State Charities Trust to support community engagement efforts.

OpportunitySpace aggregates, standardizes and visualizes public data to make information about government-owned real estate and development information accessible for all.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2013, the Foundation made grants of more than $31 million to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grant making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

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