Greater City Providence

City Administrative Center

ProJo reports on plans by the city to consolidate Municipal offices into one City Administrative Center. The city currently has some agencies spread out in leased space across the city. This causes confusion for residents seeking services and forces city employees to wander all over town to attend inter-departmental meetings.

The city is seeking between 50,000 and 80,000 square feet of space in a building downtown or in an area on the near West Side near Classical High School or the Public Safety Building.

Possible locations include:

The vacant Gateway Center aka “AmEx Building” most recently home to Fidelity which used the building temporarily until moving staff to new buildings in Smithfield:

View Larger Map

The Gateway Center’s 135,110-square-foot space is hard to subdivide and the city has struggled to find businesses needing that much space. A move of city offices to the Gateway Center could finally answer the question of who will occupy that building. It has had a revolving door of tenants of late. The building is larger than the city is looking for. Potentially that extra space could be leased out to related non-profits, or used as co-working space for entrepeneurs.

Another possible location is the Providence Gas Building at 100 Weybosset Street recently vacated by National Grid:

View Larger Map

The Providence Journal Building on Sabin Street, currently for sale by the Journal’s corporate owners:

View Larger Map

Buildings recenlty vacated by Blue Cross Blue Shield including 1 LaSalle Square:

View Larger Map

The city is seeking a 15-25 year lease for the City Administrative Center with rent of no more than $736,000. The departments which may be housed in the new center include law, planning, inspection and standards, workforce solutions, licensing, the registrar, the city fire marshal’s office, and the licensing bureaus.

In the RFP, the city seeks a building with 100-200 parking spaces for the up to 250 city workers that would occupy it, plus 15 parking spaces for members of the public visiting the building.

For once, I agree with some of the comments on ProJo. The city (and the state) should be discouraging workers from driving into downtown and encouraging them to utilize RIPTA more, as private companies such as GTECH and Blue Cross Blue Shield have done at their new buildings. Last year the mayor signed an Executive Order stating that all new municipal buildings shall be LEED certified. As this will not be a new building, I suppose it will not need to be LEED per that Executive Order. 200 parking spaces for municipal employees however is not in the spirit of that order.

Aside from the parking issue, I believe consolidating city offices into one building is a good idea.

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.


  • Even in this market it might not be that easy for the city to find office space within in their budget anywhere near Downtown. They need 50,000 to 80,000 square feet and with a budget of no more than $736,000 per year. This would mean the lease rate they require would be in the range of $9 to $15 per square foot. Generally the rate for Downtown Class A space is $23 to $32 per square foot and for Class B around $11 to $18.

    If there’s an empty commercial building large enough near the Public Safety Building that might be their best bet, but for the moment that would rule out a transit oriented city work force given the distance from Providence Station and Kennedy Plaza. Also when the two Downtown streetcar lines are built they’re not planned to go that far west initially. The west side area would be served by about a quarter of the bus lines, at best.

    It would be more prudent if the city leased 80,000 in anticipation of future growth. After all 15 to 25 years is a long time. Really the cheap office deals exist in Olneyville and along the Woonnasquatucket, but that offers fewer options for transit.

    As for the 100-200 parking spaces, it would cost roughly $20,000 per month for 200 cars, even at a discounted rate of $5 per day, which is low. Maybe instead of spending on parking the money could be used to subsidize RIPTA and MBTA transit passes for city workers.

  • The city would be better off buying a facility or building one out. None of the facilities mentioned has the parking capacity required. They could buy something like Atlantic Mills and rehab it but it would be prohibitively expensive.

    They could also move into the vacated property on Manton Ave where the Price Rite used to be. That’s got the square footage, parking and bus access.

  • I don’t think it would be the best bet for all those offices to be located on Manton Avenue. While Olneyville Square is a merging place for many city arteries, I think these offices should remain in Downtown for the sake of a central location for all city residents. I think one of the buildings left behind by BCBS might be a good choice. 1 LaSalle Square is kind of showy. I think the attractiveness of the building to house the offices of the “Creative Capital” may be a smart move. The municipal building in Tokyo plays a similar role.

  • While none of the buildings suggested have the required parking, parking should not be a consideration for the city offices. Sure, it should have a few spaces for directors and such, but most of the office workers and people who generally don’t leave on a regular basis have no need for their cars there and can use RIPTA. I can go even further and say that I believe there should be a requirement that city employees live in the city, but that’s not happening anytime soon.

    I like the idea of the Gateway Center being the city offices. Considering the name of it, there could be a nice tourist info office in there for people coming in via Amtrak or MBTA, making it a true “gateway”. Having the city offices there could ensure that the area stays well-kept and perhaps having city employees seeing what an ugly mess the train station is will get them to push to have it cleaned up.

    That being said, I think it would be easiest to have a building that’s as close to City Hall and Kennedy Plaza as possible, making it easily accessible to people coming from all over the city. While many of the bus routes go by the train station, they all don’t. And even though it’s not a long walk fro KP, it isn’t exactly easy for someone in a wheel chair or who has problems walking.

  • Some of the comments on ProJo suggested that any new city office building should not be Downcity, you know, ‘cos everyone who comments on ProJo hates Downcity and is paralyzed by having to park their cars anywhere other than Walmart.

    They need to locate Downtown so that everyone can be in proximity, people from City Hall can attend meetings at the Administrative Center and vice-versa. The same reason Blue Cross Blue Shield consolidated their offices.

  • Look, the state office like the Sec. of State for example have offices spread all over the city. For example, Corporations, Elections, and I.T. are at 148 West River Street, Archives at 337 Westminster St, and the Administration, Public Information Division and State Library at the State House.

    So you could put this building anywhere in the city.

  • The people commenting on the Projo would be perfectly happy if it were on Bald Hill Rd because there’s plenty of parking available.

  • Any of the four downtown buildings identified in this post would be great if not fabulious choices for a city administration building. All have good transit options. Parking is not great and as previously mentioned should be less of a consideration. The old Gas Company building and the Projo headquarters are closest to city hall, which would make it easier for city workers. The old BCBS at 15 La Salle Square and Gateway Center might make for a more prominent public building due to their design. Gateway has added advantage of the train station.

    However, as I mentioned in my first comment this all comes down to the city budget (and budget cuts).

    $13 million is owed to the bank that holds Gateway. If the city can only spend $736,000 per year for administrative offices and assume the city bought the building for $13 million it would take roughly 18 years for the city to pay for that investment (not including operating costs such as heat and electric). If the city leased the building at a discounted Class A rate of $20 per square foot|it would cost the city around $2.7 million a year and the city only has $736,000. They can’t afford it! The same is probably true for the other three buildings, when the numbers are crunched.

    With the Smith Hill budget ax swinging at mid-year, the city must be scrambling to save as much as they can as quickly as possible. An alternative could be for the city to issue a bond to buy a building, but that would require voter approval and there isn’t time.

  • Gateway Center has 150 underground parking spaces currently leased to a private operator.

  • the old police and fire safety building might have been a good location. 😉

  • Or the Fogarty Building, which the city also once owned but unloaded and is now sitting empty.

  • Fogarty has about half the area they need. The old police and fire building would have been perfect. Far from downtown the Weybosset Mills building would have the square footage and be in their price range. Too bad it’s in Olneyville.

  • The city should build new in one of the vacant lots downtown …

    IDEA #1:
    How about the triangle at the NE corner of downtown at Exchange and Memorial Blvd. ? I understand the lot has a $3M pricetag ? 70,000 sf @ $200/sf is $14M … plus another $1.5 in fees or so.

    The lot is about 15,000 sf probably so it would be maybe a 5 or 6 story building. Feed vitality into Kennedy Plaza, Burnside Park, and the desolate-without-Waterfire Waterplace Park. Close to the mall for lunchtime shopping to enrich the daily lives of our civic employees. Close to the Capital Grill for politicking … and free parking on College Hill after 10 am like everyone else who works downtown !

    Noone else will want to build there for a long time, so this could spatially enclose the core of downtown

    The rent for 20 years at $700,000/year is also $14M, about the same price as the building would be.

    IDEA #2
    …. or Buff Chace could build it on part of his lot across from Tazza and build a hybrid retail / office / apartment block. …. or in the lot where the deeply lamented loss of NEW JAPAN was (pouting). ….

    IDEA #3
    …. maybe not ALL in one building, but two or three smaller ones that are nonetheless within five blocks or so from City Hall – you know, walking distance. This could energize several areas of downtown with people …

    anyway, it has to be downtown.

  • I like the idea of putting it on the triangle parcel. That would get city workers walking back and forth through Kennedy Plaza all the time, hopefully giving them ideas on how to improve it. Of course, I’m sure certain city employees would never walk, and rather drive the 2 blocks from that building to City Hall or vice versa.

  • One of the purposes of consolidation is to keep people from walking. Right now Inspections Standards, Planning and Law are all within about 5 blocks from City Hall in leased space. The idea is to put all the “building and development” related departments under one roof to help streamline the permitting process. That’s why the article mentioned moving the Fire Marshall out of Public Safety (they review plans for for fire code). One of the biggest complaints from developers is having to run around the city to get plans approved. I think they may move the assessor there as well.

  • I understand that’s part of the reason, but City Hall will still exist and people will still have meetings with the mayor and city council, and probably other departments that are also located in City Hall. This would still require them to leave that building and go to City Hall or vice versa.

  • I would think that most of the people who would be relocated to the building would have little need to go to City Hall. It would mostly be department heads and maybe some mid-level management. Most others would have the people they need to interact with within the same building. Since its, primary purpose is to improve service to the public, I think location considerations should be based on that criteria.

    Any building on that lot will most likely have to sit on a couple levels of parking. I am not sure the soil conditions would allow you to have underground parking. After building setbacks, stair towers and an elevator and utility core you have to ask yourself will there be enough sq. footage per floor to make the building efficient for employees and the public. Would it be flexible enough to allow for expansion of a department without reconfiguring for a new floor? Finally, there is a question of time. How long would it take to go through the design/development and construction process before the City could take occupancy? With so much empty real estate in Providence right now, why go and build a new building?

  • My understanding is that triangle lot has a series of challenging conditions below grade. Among them includes earlier bulkhead walls used to hold back the river/cove at different points in the past, as well as environmental conditions with the soil that might make excavation for an underground garage costly. Also, the lot’s shape would make for a less functional garage floor plate. Piles a garage structure could be built on above the ground floor might provide an easier solution if the site were used. Another point is that as with all of Capital Center the land any building would sit on leased, which would be another cost for the city.

    Perhaps if a new building were to be built a less problematic site might be selected. There are numerous parking lots downtown to choose from.

Providence, RI
5:18 am8:06 pm EDT
Feels like: 57°F
Wind: 5mph S
Humidity: 98%
Pressure: 29.97"Hg
UV index: 0
82°F / 61°F
82°F / 61°F
79°F / 59°F