PAWTUCKET - Why should you come to Pawtucket? Ricardo Pitts-Wiley thinks that’s a question worth answering, and one that people should not be afraid to answer.
He’s been carefully studying what it is that attracts tourists and travelers to nearby Providence, Newport, and Narragansett. e knows those cities all have answers and attractions to entice people to pay a visit.
Nationwide, he’s observed major metropolitan areas such as New Orleans and Las Vegas, and he’s seen what works there. He’s paid close attention to how Austin, Texas and Branson, Mo. have morphed into arts hotbeds.
But Pawtucket, Rhode Island? How can Pawtucket redefine itself?
"What is Pawtucket, what makes it unique, what makes it special? I’m
not saying it can’t be done, but I feel as a stakeholder we have to address that question very specifically,” said Pitts-Wiley, the co-founder of Mixed Magic Theatre on Mineral Spring Avenue.
“Why come to Pawtucket? I know why people go to Newport. I know why people go to Providence. I know why they go to Narragansett. Why come to Pawtucket? We have to give people a reason to come to Pawtucket.”
“It doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t happen unless somebody is asking the question of what am I going to do there. Took around the country, look around the world What are you going to do? I’ve got something for you,” he said. “We have to be constantly putting that first and foremost.”
“We have to be a part of the expansion of the identity profile of Pawtucket,” he said. “The 560 Experience is part of that.”
The 560 Experience is the collaboration seen at the vibrant arts community at the Lorraine Mills at 560 Mineral Spring Ave. But to Pitts-Wiley, it’s beyond an experience where visitors can spend an entire day at a variety of shopping and artist destinations, it’s where the redefinition of Pawtucket can commence.
“We had to redefine this area,” Pitts-Wiley said from inside his theater. “It’s an industrial area, it’s not necessarily on the main line of activities, it’s not downtown, it’s not an area that was under redevelopment so to speak. We had to create our own kind of energy and identity profile. We not only had to develop a profile for the community, but one for the entire state and the region. We couldn’t be content to say we’re a Pawtucket organization and only for Pawtucket. The 560 Experience has everybody coming.”
Situated inside the sprawling mill complex on Mineral Spring Avenue includes entertainment options such as Mixed Magic Theatre, the Wage House comedy theater, Escape Room Rhode Island, Kats Dance Centre and Performing Arts, and Mambo Pa Ti Dance Company; fitness destinations including GameDay Fitness, Ambition Fitness Training, and Big Fitness; food and beverage selections such as Crooked Current Brewery, White Dog Distilling, and Fully Rooted juicery; and havens for the arts including Valiant Arts and the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative.
And that’s just scratching the surface of all that the Lorraine Mills complex entails.
“I decided here at the mill that it was important to say what are we that’s different, what can you come here and do? We looked at what existed and what was coming. We have two theaters, three dance companies, a brewery, a distillery, a comedy club, a high-end juice bar, three workout facilities, the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, many artists in the building, an escape room gaming experience,” Pitts-Wiley said. “We redefined the landscape of the space We started looking at how many things already existed here, what makes for a complete entertainment experience, what can you do here?”
“We were really trying to create something that, when people thought about Pawtucket, they also thought immediately about The 560 Experience,” he said. “To have a good time, relax, see some art, entertainment, have a drink, salsa dance. There’s a lot of things that could be done here.”
Among the entertainment available at 560 Mineral Spring Ave. includes a summer concert series, which continues Saturday night at 7 30 p.m. with a performance by jazz and blues singer Kim Trusty, also known as “The Girl with the Golden Voice.” Trusty’s performance will continue the summertime series, which started last month and continues through the end of September.
“When she performs, it carries on a tradition we’re looking to build,” Pitts-Wiley said of Trusty. “It’s about giving a variety. We would love to be able to bring in more ethnic music, but part of what our challenge is, is to be able to say based on the standard we are setting for performance, how do we identify those who are able to work at that level, who can present at that level?”
When he studied successful communities, the one common factor above all else seemed to be that they define the whole day. A tourist in Los Angeles or San Francisco can have an entire day mapped out with a variety of destinations within the respective cities, and Pawtucket needs to be able to do the same.
“We have to ask ‘What can I do?’ And The 560 Experience is about what you can do at this location,” he said of the variety inside the mill. “You can do it all in one day and you don’t have to walk very far. As the population expands, there will be more things.”
But the singular question that Pitts-Wiley keeps coming back to is why should people come to Pawtucket. And if the need exists to redefine Pawtucket to attract those statewide and nationwide visitors, then that should be something people embrace rather than shun.
“It’ll take a little time but I’m not a person who believes that you can silently sneak up on success, you have to let success know you’re coming. Shout it out I’m coming! I’ve got something!” he exclaimed. “Either you deal with that or not. But once you put it out there, you can’t just talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. With The 560 Experience, we walked the walk Sometimes, you have to respond to demand and what we’re trying to do at The 560 Experience is create a new demand for entertainment options.”
Redefining what Pawtucket can be is his intention, he said, as he’s not one who is fine with a city of 72,000 diverse residents being derisively referred to as “The Bucket.”
“We’re up against some daunting odds, not the least of which is a city that was defined in the past as ‘The Bucket.’ That’s pretty serious. There are entities in the past who have said let’s claim it and use it. It’s not useful, it’s a claim to the past,” he said. “I for one am not trying to claim anything in the past. If something is not useful moving forward, it doesn’t mean you destroy it, it doesn’t mean that you devalue it, it just means that you don’t try to use it.”
This redefinition, he said, can be made possible because there exists some tremendous opportunity across Pawtucket, citing the breweries, incoming commuter rail stop, and the future use of the McCoy Stadium land once the Pawtucket Red Sox depart for Worcester, Mass. in 2021.
But that all leads to a pivotal Question is Pawtucket ready to be redefined? Pitts-Wiley believes so.
“But believing and doing are two different things,” he quickly adds. “I’ve heard what you believe, but what are you doing. I never want someone to ask me that Question and say I’m not doing anything. This is what we’re doing, this is what we’ve done.”
“We just need to find ways, I believe, of reinventing the city,” Pitts-Wiley continued. “The people have to do it. If you don’t do it for yourself, somebody will come in and redefine you and they don’t have to ask you anything.”
Ultimately, though, the city’s redefinition could be birthed inside the walls of 560 Mineral Spring Ave.
“What we want people to do is have people around the state ask what’s happening at 560? That would be a great advancement of this project,” Pitts-Wiley said. “There’s a concert, a brewery, a distillery, an escape room, Mixed Magic has shows. What’s happening at 560, that’s what you want That is where the partnership with the artists and stakeholders and business community have to work together. You’ve got to make it something that’s irresistible.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette