The Teppco “Tax-Jack” and 10 Waterfront Acres
A Rhode Island business folding or relocating operations to business friendly territory is unfortunately as commonplace as a rush hour fender bender. On the surface the recent closing of the Teppco Propane facility leaving 36 souls unemployed appears to be another casualty of a hostile business climate, however the timing and circumstances that led Teppco GP Inc. to close their doors leaves a number of loose threads and unanswered questions to write this off as a $1 Million “Tax-Jack” of a single business. The Teppco Propane facility sits on a waterfront tract of land near 10 acres at 25 Fields Point Dr. where they’ve operated in energy/propane distribution since 1971. As reported by GoLocalProv, in July 2015 Teppco found themselves on the wrong side of a $1 Million tax increase, 400% over the previous year (2014).
Rhode Island attorney Michael Marino:
“After about 12 informal requests for information from the city’s assessor’s office for information on this issue, I was forced to make a formal public records request with the city,” said Michael Marino, Teppco’s attorney last month. “Until [this] morning, the tax assessor’s office has outright ignored every request for information that we have made.” Marino was hired by Teppco’s parent company Enterprise Products based in Houston Texas to represent Teppco’s interests in resolving the $1 Million tax increase and was prepared to take this issue to court. Short of any communication with the city, Marino could only speculate that city misclassified the storage tank and in the process taxed the same tank twice. GolocalProv reports, “City officials have neglected to comment on this issue as well, citing the fact that the company was going through the appeals process.” Until recently all attention has been squarely focused on Teppco’s efforts to resolve this $1 Million “Tax-Jack” with a reportedly unresponsive city bureaucracy, however a broader view of timing and circumstance may show an alternate theory unrelated to a $1 Million tax dispute.
It’s no secret the capitol city of Providence is desperate for new revenue, so much so they’re recruiting an army of 700 additional parking meters to raise cash, an effort that will likely drive existing business beyond the Providence city limits. In 2015 Teppco’s tax liability rocketed from$252,730.60 to a massive $1,239,679.04, no other business in the Washington Park triangle reported an arm twisting 400% tax increase, if none were issued, why would Teppco be the only recipient of the city’s hunger for revenue? Teppco received the bad news in July of 2015 while the PawSox Relocation kerfuffle was still in play. The PawSox owners dream site for the new stadium was a 5 acre waterfront tract on the I-195 reclamation site however Federal provisions for land use, infrastructure cost, and an angry electorate made this site unfeasible. The wrangling for an alternate site continued on Smith Hill behind closed doors away from public protests over a large taxpayer burden to subsidize a privately owned business. With limited waterfront real estate prospects wide public discussion turned to waterfront sites that would not only support construction of a new stadium but expansion of an entertainment and tourist venue. Those discussions focused on the waterfront edge of the Washington Park Triangle, highly industrial, densely populated with massive fuel and storage tanks, transfer stations, and ProvPort. The now vacant Teppco Propane Facility on 25 Fields Point Drive is a 10 acre waterfront tract adjacent to ProvPort. 10 acres is twice the footprint needed to satisfy the construction needs of a new stadium plus parking, or perhaps the startup of an alternate use venue. The Washington Park Triangle is no stranger to speculation on best practices and alternate use of existing properties.
Without argument conclusions in this post are circumstantial, a three dimensional effort to connect the dots regardless, several important loose threads remain in play. Teppco’s closing was the direct result of a $1 Million tax increase, 400% over the previous year and by their reckoning unable to resolve with an unresponsive city bureaucracy. The lack of any other business in the Washington Park Triangle publically contesting a 400% tax increase is cause to question whether Teppco was the only recipient of such a massive tax increase, and if so why. The City of Providence has erected a virtual “Cone of Silence” over all things Teppco. GoLocalProv’s recent inquiries have resulted in the all too familiar “Smith Hill Shuffle”. For the moment the trail runs cold at the steps of city hall, however Teppco’s parent company Enterprise Products owns the now vacant 10 acre waterfront tract which will not remain vacant forever. Whoever takes ownership of the property, and their plans to develop will be of great interest and may well warm up the trail that now ends at the steps of Providence City Hall.