Greater City Providence

More on Capitol Cove

Capitol Cove

Recently we speculated about the rumor running around town that Johnson & Wales had bought the (not yet complete) Capitol Cove condominiums on Canal Street in Capital Center. Today we have a copy of Johnson & Wales’ lease .

The lease runs for 3 years starting August 1, 2009 and ending July 31, 2012 with an option to extend for 2 years at the end of the lease. It stipulates that the building is to be used to house students enrolled at Johnson & Wales, Johnson & Wales faculty or staff, or “any persons attending any program sponsored from time to time by the Tenant [Johnson & Wales].” In addition to the building located at One Park Row West, the University will be provided with parking for “110 automobiles in a segregated area on adjacent land known as Providence Assessor’s Plat 4 Lots 262 and/or 263.” In English that means surface parking on the area not occupied by the building.

In the Capital Center Special Development District Design and Development Regulations* (As Adopted By The Capital Center Commission On February 13, 2003) the section on the Moshassuck Subdistrict (which includes Capitol Cove) states:

3.3.E Parking and Service
Parking and building servicing shall be internal to the structure. Parking shall be accommodated below grade, or, if above grade, parking and service shall not be visible from the street. Any above street level parking shall be screened from public view and architecturally integrated into the building.

Capitol Cove may well have received relief from this from the Capital Center Commission, however, should that relief carry over from their condo proposal to this new use? Also, the building has structured parking, why should it need surface parking? Seeing as this parking is part of the lease agreement, it would indicate that future development of the remaining parts of parcel 6 can now be considered on hold until at least the middle of 2012.

Looking through the ProJo website, the last reference I can find on Capitol Cove is a story from January 11th on the condo sales slump. In that article developer Robert Roth stated that four units had pre-sold at Capitol Cove and that they expected 4 to 6 units per month to sell once the project was complete. As it turned out, by late March, they’d thrown in the towel and signed a lease with Johnson & Wales.

There’s still more questions to be answered about this development and we will continue to see what we can uncover.

*I can’t find this document posted online right now, but I had it saved on my computer, because I’m a big geek like that.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I’m curious why J&W recently said they could not publicly comment on this? It is not like they are still in lease negotiations.

  • That would be why we see that the Capitol Cove website is “down for maintenance.” My problem with the property is the price point that they priced their condos. They started at $350’s. Between The Westin and Waterplace, there is already a saturation of luxury properties in the downtown area. What they needed to do was price the condos from the 175’s and up to be able to attract middle class/moderate income people like myself. I think if they had done that, they would have had them sold no problem…instead they just priced (us) out of the building.

  • Soren:
    As of yesterday, J&W was still saying no public comment to me. Don’t know why either.

  • I agree with Sean. This would have been a great spot for condos starting at about $200k-250k and going up from there rather than starting at $350k.

    I’m also curious as to what happens with the 4 units that were pre-sold. Surely there must have been some kind of agreement. Would someone actually have put a deposit down on one with the knowledge that they wouldn’t actually be for sale when completed?

  • So, does the city have a comment?

    Will it require a use change from living condos to student dorms? What does this do to JW’s Institutional Master Plan?

    Whatever concessions the developer got from the city, either in the form of zoning relief, or actual money (like a tax stabilization or a TIF or something) should be revolked and paid back if the project is changing this substantially, in fact, any approvals that anyone gave on this project should be pulled back and looked at.

    A Dorm? For what are unarguably the WORST student neighbors in the entire city? Are you freaking kidding me?

    I too am curious about the “presold” units. Was it a lie or maybe they were “pre-sold” to J&W to use as guest housing and visiting professor/scholar housing like Brown has in a few of its buildings.

    In any event, if the city doesn’t take a good hard look at this I will be very interested to know why that is.

  • I wonder if J&W’s ‘no comment’ stance has anything to do with the answers (or lack of answers) to the questions you raise Jen.

    As a Federal Hill resident (which is the Johnson & Wales student ghetto), I’m happy with anything that puts more J&W students into campus housing.

  • Part of me is legitimately let down that this happened, but part of me is also annoyed that everyone’s complaining so much about it.

  • Corey, there are a lot of real implications when a non profit takes control over what should have been tax paying, money making condos for working professionals in providence. add to that mix any concessions the developer got to build Capitol Cove and you might see (as I do) that it stinks to high heaven.

    And what is probably the most disgusting is that if Jef hadn’t found out about this, it never would ever have seen the light of day–JW would have just slipped this under the radar, the city wouldn’t say anything, the journal wouldn’t have made a little post-it note about it, the developer certainly wouldn’t say anything.

    It is a big deal that downtown is being turned into dorm rooms for freshmen. Between Moshassuk Square becoming RISD housing and Capitol Cove become JW Freshmen !! housing, who the hell is going to want to live down in that area?

    Now it has been over a year since I sat on the CPC but i don’t remember JW coming before us to propose new dorms, so I really find it hard to believe that they are only going to lease these units for 3 years and then move their freshmen into dorms.

    The area around Capitol Cove will become defacto JW property, maybe gated, maybe not, but most definitely it will become a place where no one with an actual job and life will want to live or work.

  • If I’m not mistaken, nobody with an actual job or life wants to live or work in Providence or Rhode Island to begin with. It’s just so uncivilized.

    As for the building being taken off the tax rolls, and the issue of the cost of the original tax abatement deal, absolutely get mad at that. That part sucks. But I think what that annoys me is the whole “down with JWU” attitude. It comes off as snooty and classist, even if it’s supposedly in the name of “good planning”. It’s something that the new urbanists have become extremely good at over the years, but frankly, it’s better to have SOMEONE living there than no one. I can think of a lot of properties in or near downtown that the young professionals everyone’s worried about would rather occupy. You win some, you lose some. It happens in any real city.

    As for whether Jef is personally responsible for this coming to light, clearly I don’t know him as well as you do. But for what it’s worth, this story was in the PBN 24 hours before it showed up here. Nothing personal.

  • If I’m not mistaken, nobody with an actual job or life wants to live or work in Providence or Rhode Island to begin with. It’s just so uncivilized.

    Yes, you are mistaken and you know it.

    But I think what that annoys me is the whole “down with JWU” attitude.

    Johnson & Wales students are bad neighbors, and the University has not been proactive in addressing that. I’m sorry you find that snooty and classist.

    As for whether Jef is personally responsible for this coming to light, clearly I don’t know him as well as you do. But for what it’s worth, this story was in the PBN 24 hours before it showed up here. Nothing personal.

    The least of my concerns really, but if you want to not be personal about it, yes, they hit Publish a couple hours before me. I presume that PBN, ProJo, and I all received a copy of the lease from the same source.

  • When did partying students with no regard for community become a protected class in RI?

    While I appreciate the amount of disposable income that students spend in RI on cheap beer, Mountain Dew and cheesy fries the fact is that most colleges prefer to keep their students on campus for a few reasons. One is to keep them close to their classes and their classmates all while collecting a hefty “room and board fee” from their parents, and the other is to keep them from annoying everyone else.

  • Corey, I tend to agree with much of what you say here. However, you are very mistaken about people not wanting to live in Providence. I have lived here for 5 years now. I just bought a house in Providence, about a block from Chalkstone Ave (generally considered a “not so nice” area). I’m a person with a job and a life. I happen to love Providence.

    Before I moved, I lived on Federal Hill. Jef’s description (JWU’s student ghetto) is pretty spot on. I had nothing but problems with JWU students when I lived there, including the kid who lived below me. They were loud, they trashed the neighborhood, and the generally did not give a crap about the people who lived there. I have called the cops on parties that extended well into the wee hours of the night. I woke up at 3:00am one night to music from a street or 2 over (and not the house behind mine) playing so loud I could understand the lyrics. They played frisbee in my street and gave me dirty looks when I need to actually drive on the street. They tossed footballs across the street over passing cars and pedestrians. Even the PC students who live near JWU students, who are not known to be the best neighbors, have issues with the JWU students. Perhaps the university needs to teach their students how to be good neighbors and how to live in a community rather than trash it.

    The longer there are students in Capitol Cove, the less people will want to be in that neighborhood. I feel for the people who live in the Avalon and even those who have bought condos in Waterplace. JWU students do not make good neighbors. Besides, they said they had already pre-sold 4 condos and were expecting to sell more as time went on. I don’t think they were fearing for the worst.

    Jen, I don’t know if you know the answer to this, but because it’s a lease, does that still take it off the tax rolls? I would imagine that the owner still has to pay full property taxes on it.

  • Since it is a lease, it should stay on the tax rolls. That is what is going on with Moshassuck AFAIK.

    What is more annoying in the whole thing, and it is anti-classist, is that Moshassuck itself was the best deal around, if you were willing to trade off storage for urban living. Now it is gone. CC could have been the affordable urban condos but they chose to go luxury bullshit and then when it became apparent that wasn’t going to work, they just said “screw it, let’s get what we can in this lease and try to ride out the storm.”

    What will be a problem is if they then sell to JWU when the condo market does not come back (I would guess 2016 or so before there is excess demand for luxo condo’s in PVD). Too early to speculate but I see that as a possible future.

    the most irritating thing of all is that they didn’t even try, I mean didn’t even put out the first set of feelers, for making these more low-end, and cheaper. I don’t know if in this market they would have sold many anyway, but to me this was always a missstep since we have known for the last two years that Westin and Waterplace were selling slow. Why another luxo condo project was approved I will never know.

  • Back in 2000 or so I worked at a college around here. I recall a discussion with some very high-up folks about transforming the ‘campus’ (which was only one building) by waiting for all the condo construction to flop and then buying-up swaths of unfinished/unfurnished ‘luxury condos’ for use as dorms. They knew that there was a market for individuals to live downtown, but the numbers the economy could support were closer to the hundreds, not thousands.

    This may not have been the publicly-available plan, but it was certainly on the colleges’ and cities’ radars. I suspect that the stuff that we recently all learned about how finance and the economy works has something to do with this:

    Developers, workers, the city, and the schools all got what they wanted, and the investors got pooched.

    I’m sure all the ‘i’s were dotted and ‘t’s crossed, though, and there’s no evidence of actual malfeasance.

  • Also, this seems rather far for JWU students. I know Providence isn’t big, but why must we have all of this segmentation?

    I would ten times have rather seen JWU build a down on any of the vacant lots that abut their existing campus (what are there, 3 or 4 acres of them?) and continue to look at a weeded eyesore on Canal St. until such time as a proper development was proposed.

  • Here’s my take (focusing more on the positives):

    1) The 3-5 year term lease and the relative distance from the core of their campus leads me to believe that this is a short-term plan to house some students until what will be the old 195 land becomes available. They made it clear they have their sights on some of that land and this buys them time to figure out if they’ll be able to include it in their master plan or not.

    2) Let’s give JWU a chance to say what it will be used for and hope it’s not a freshman dorm. Maybe it will be for upper classman only (slightly better than “wild” freshman??). Maybe they use it for faculty/staff only – visiting professors/scholars only??

    3) Westin Condos and H2O place just lost a competitor. The few people looking at this category of real estate will be consolidated into choosing from the remaining properties.

    4) This might spur some sort of improved commercial spaces to support the area better. I have read from many (and agree BTW) of you that the train station area could use some better/new/more amenity driven shops and stores.

    5) Increased use of the T and RIPTA. Nothing huge, but we all have to agree that this location offers great access to bus and rail and these ‘residents’ will need to be connected to the core JWU campus.

    6) Increased mall area business. Similar to #5. Good for the stores and restaurants in that area.

    7) The river does isolate this building on the east side and the tracks to the north. Park Row and Avelon area residents will bare the brunt of any potential nuissances, but (as jef pointed out) this does also possible consolidate a little of the JWU city-wide sprall.

  • 4) This might spur some sort of improved commercial spaces to support the area better. I have read from many (and agree BTW) of you that the train station area could use some better/new/more amenity driven shops and stores.

    I was thinking about this this morning as I was walking over the river looking at “The Cove.” The space that was slated as retail on the Park Row side, was to be a gym for the residents until Phase 2 was built with a larger gym and pool (this is according to the sales pitch on the tour I took). Perhaps that retail space will again be a retail space. Capital Center needs a convenience store, especially with x-hundred students moving in. RISD students at Moshassuck Square Charles Landing would likely use it too as they walk between there and RISDs campus.

  • from the press release posted on Projo yesterday:

    The university said Capitol Cove housing will be offered first to current freshmen who had been placed on a waiting list for 2009-10 academic year housing.

    So, maybe not freshmen. Sophomores.

  • Well that’s better, at least there is no annoying Verve Pipe song called “The Sophomore,” honestly that’s my biggest problem with Freshmen.

  • I assume the fire system at The Cove will be tied into the city’s fire alarm system as code dictates all dormitories need to be by August…

  • Just As I Suspected (which is a nicer way of saying “i told you so”)

  • ProJo reports that the City Council will likely amend the tax deal on this property to allow for use as a dorm. The tax deal prohibited that, but the developer made the deal with J&W to avoid foreclosure. The amendment by the city would allow the use for 5 years (J&W currently has a 3 year lease with an option to renew).

    It also adds language saying that Capital Cove must repay the city the full value of property taxes over the life of the agreement (meaning retroactively and going forward) if it is sold to a tax-exempt entity.

    Since further phases of this project apparently not happening anytime in the next 5 years, how about the city get the developer to properly maintain the rest of the parcel? Just throwing some grass seed on the open parts of the parcel would be an improvement over the mud pit it is now.

  • J&W’s lease here is up for renewal at the end of July. I have not heard anything about it, but I would wildly speculate that they will renew for 2-years as they are just now getting underway with building out their campus on Pine Street. Student housing is part of their Pine Street area plan, so it is conceivable they could have housing ready there to move students to at the end of their two year renewal.

    At this point, the Downtown housing market is doing… well, but having the units at Capital Cove dumped on the market right now could throw the market for a loop.

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