Unless you own a business downtown or closely monitor city politics, you’ve probably never heard of the Providence Foundation. If you have, there’s a good chance you have no idea what it does.
Cliff Wood wants to change that.
The foundation’s new executive director, Cliff, a 48-year-old, snappy-dressing former city councilman who has also worked for major developer Cornish Associates, says he wants to raise the 42-year-old organization’s public profile while continuing to fulfill its longtime mission to be a “catalyst for public and private development in downtown.”
Selected from 71 applicants following a nationwide search to replace longtime executive director Dan Baudouin, Cliff says he sees the foundation’s primary role as being a strong partner with the mayor and other city leaders as well as the business community. Among the foundation’s best attributes, Cliff says, is its consistency.
“While government has changed over the years,” Cliff says, “we have been around for 42 years.” The foundation relies heavily on dues from its 140 members and grants, according to Cliff, but he suggests he’s hoping to make the organization more inclusive in the coming years.
The foundation’s goal, Cliff says, is to make Providence the “most attractive mid-size city in the country.” That means improving communication about the city’s strengths in order to attract new development while also advocating for conditions that promote growth, like better predictability when it comes to taxes.
And there is still plenty of room to build in downtown, Cliff says. Although the old joke about rolling a bowling ball down Westminster Street without anyone noticing is no longer true, he said there are still 20 acres of surface lots throughout downtown that could be developed along with most of the land left vacant by the relocation of Route I-195. Not to mention the vacant building at 111 Westminster Street.
While some of his former colleagues on the city council have expressed skepticism about continuing to approve tax breaks for projects in downtown, Cliff argues that the revenues generated from the new hotels and apartment buildings currently under construction can be used to benefit every neighborhood in the city.
Cliff should hit the ground running. He already knows all the players and understands how the city works. Look for parks to be a major focus of the foundation moving forward – Cliff came over from the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, which functions as an arm of the foundation, and is now merging the two organizations, although the foundation will continue to promote the conservancy’s campaign for a downtown parks network that includes Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk, the planned pedestrian bridge and the Kennedy Plaza area. Cliff is among the many advocates who want to make the plaza more pedestrian friendly.
“I want people to understand that having a healthy and thriving downtown is important for the whole city,” he says.