Meeting with Mike: Citizens head of property reflects on campus development

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Without Mike Knipper, head of property and an executive vice president at the bank, the recently opened Citizens Bank Johnston Campus would never have been built.

At Tuesday’s opening day festivities held at the campus, every speaker, including bank executives and dignitaries, heaped words of praise on Knipper for going above and beyond in completing the massive project on time and on budget.

It’s been a rough two years for Knipper, as the public face of the project he’s attended every public forum associated with the campus development, from Planning Board and Town Council meetings, to question and answer sessions held regarding the Greenville Avenue sewer and water line extension project. He’s deftly answered questions and criticisms surrounding the multi million-dollar project and has accommodated every request for information from this newspaper since the project’s inception.

At Tuesday’s ceremonies, Knipper could finally breathe a sigh of relief that the much anticipated project was finally complete.

“Yesterday, I sat down on the couch in the lobby and got work done, and I was so relaxed just looking around and seeing the trees out there and it was great,” said Knipper.

While there are still a few construction and landscaping projects that need attending to, the bulk of work at the site is now finished. By the second week in September, all necessary work should be completed. According to Knipper, all employees who are expected to use the new facility will be moved in by October 26.

It’s been a trying season for gardening, and Knipper applauds Johnston’s own Central Nurseries for all of the landscaping work they’ve completed. While the campus’s sports fields remain essentially as dirt, as August isn’t the appropriate time to plant grass, such projects are easier to complete than, say, getting approval for and building new highway ramps in less than two years.

“There’s some small stuff left, but generally speaking, and knock on a lot of wood, there’s just not anything big going on anymore,” said Knipper.

For Knipper, it’s been a long road of setbacks and success, one he’s proud of completing. He believes that such a development as the campus could only have been accomplished with strong leadership and dedication.

“You put together a great state, great town, a great team and company, you can do anything, and this project proves it. If somebody said two years ago, ‘Yeah, you’ll get a new highway ramp put in where there isn’t one,” everyone looked at us like we were crazy, except the governor and the mayor, who said let’s figure it out,” he said.

While it’s been a rough road for Knipper, the executive also recognized the major inconveniences the project put upon local residents from the massive amount of construction necessary for the development.

“The town has been spectacular. Even though we’ve had folks that we absolutely inconvenienced along the way that we still feel bad about, the town has been hugely supportive. So I can’t complain in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Working with the town for inspections and permitting process was challenging, but Knipper credits Johnston for protecting their residents and for the town’s efficiency in getting things done.

“They were all over it, and it was great because that’s what they’re supposed to do,” said Knipper, who also applauded the town’s fire and police departments for their preparedness drills at the campus. “The town’s done, what I would say, everything right in terms of making sure that we build it right to code and to plans, and then they went through everything from a safety perspective.”

Knipper also credited state agencies, from the Department of Environmental Management, Commerce Department and the Department of Transportation for ensuring all aspects of the project were up to code. He said that no breaks were given to the company as it was a highly visible project.

“To be in a state where I can text the governor anytime, to be in a state where the governor has been actively involved with this, from the open houses to the different events to visiting our workers who called me to make sure everything is going well is incredible,” said Knipper, who also added that Mayor Polisena was incredibly instrumental in getting the project completed.

Now that the project is essentially complete, Knipper believes the bank will be a good neighbor to both nearby residents and the town.

“We’ve got programs going at the high school for computers, cemetery cleanups have become a passion for a number of our folks [with more than 60 completed in town] so we will continue with that process. We’ll continue to support Operation Stand Down, we’ll continue, frankly, to do whatever we can to keep us as part of the town,” said Knipper, who is also excited to host sports banquets and athletic activities at the campus.

With Mayor Polisena touting a huge potential development on Hartford Avenue, Knipper said that he would definitely recommend other large companies to invest in both Johnston and Rhode Island.

“In a heartbeat,” said Knipper.

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