From before World War II until just after the Vietnam War, Quonset Point, in North Kingstown, was a bustling U.S. Navy base, a massive complex of buildings and docks where aircraft and ships could be rebuilt and repaired and their crews trained.
Since the Navy closed the base in 1974, the state and federal governments have been financing an array of improvements and cleanups to convert it to civilian, commercial use.
That ongoing real estate redeployment is overseen by the Quonset Development Corporation, a quasi-public state agency. Steven J. King, the corporation’s managing director, was on WPRI’s "Newsmakers" show Jan. 5 touting the progress he said had been made at Quonset.
During the interview, WPRI’s Tim White noted that the federal and Rhode Island state governments had spent more than $600 million on improvements to the property. White asked how King how he’d explain that generosity to taxpayers who might think "that’s a lot of taxpayer money that went, essentially, to the private sector."
King balked at White’s description of the money the federal and state governments spent rehabilitating the site as a private industry handout. He said private businesses put their own money in, too.
"We’ve had the private sector more than double the investment that was made by the public sector on the property," he said.
According to the Quonset Development Corporation, $666.4 million in federal and state government money has been spent since 1974 on the 3,207-acre park: $460.3 million from the federal government and $206.1 million from the state.
Nearly half went to transportation improvements: $160 million for upgrading freight rail lines and $159 million to improve state Route 403 and its access to state Route 4. Hazardous waste cleanups, which are ongoing on some parcels, cost $100 million.
So, if state and federal investment comes to $666.4 million, for King to be right the private sector would have to have contributed $1.3 billion. Do the locals measure up?
Quonset Business Park’s 170-plus tenants cover a range of businesses from warehouses for Ocean State Job Lot and Sally Beauty Supply to high-technology manufacturers Toray Plastics and submarine builder Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics Corp.
Quonset spokesman David Preston said the corporation doesn’t have precise figures on all private investment because some tenants chose to keep confidential how much they’ve spent on their facilities.
But we checked with some of the bigger tenants.
Electric Boat employs 2,767 people at its 140-acre plus complex, where workers build submarine sections, called "supermodules," which are then shipped to either Groton, Conn., or Newport News, Va., to be welded together to form a new submarine.
Since it opened its Quonset factory in 1974, EB spokesman Robert A. Hamilton said the company has spent about $900 million on its facilities. Last week, Jeffrey S. Geiger, the new president of General Dynamics/Electric Boat, announced the company plans to invest $150 million more there over the next four years.
Toray Plastics America Inc. is the next biggest firm in the park, occupying about 70 acres and employing approximately 680 people. The firm makes extremely thin plastic films for use in manufacturing.
In July 2010, Shigeru Osada, Toray America’s senior vice president for engineering and maintenance, appeared before the state Public Utilities Commission and said that as of that date, the company had invested $750 million in its facilities at Quonset. Toray vice president for human resources Lisa Ahart said last week that number was still valid.
They aren’t alone. Besides high-technology firms like Toray and EB, the Quonset has attracted business like All American Foods Inc., which supplies meat, fish and produce to supermarkets throughout the region. All American vice president Steven Savastano said the company has had a warehouse operation there for about 15 years, and invested more than $6 million in the site.
Add Toray’s $750 million to EB’s $900 million and you get $1.65 billion.
Steven King said private companies have invested twice what taxpayers have spent on developing Quonset Park.
With federal and state government putting up $666.4 million, that would be at least $1.3 billion in private investment.
Just the two largest tenants combined spent $300 million more than that.
We rate his claim True.