Greater City Providence

Rumor: “The Hub” to the Arcade?

Photo by Jef Nickerson

We don’t often deal in rumors around here, but this one is too good to let pass. A member of UrbanPlanet UrbanPlanet posted that they had heard that representatives from The Hub were coming to Providence to check out the Arcade as a possible location.

The Bay Area Hub describes itself as:

The Hub is a coworking space, event series, and professional toolset for changemakers!

During the day, The Hub is a dynamic, collision-rich workspace designed by its Members and the wisdom gleaned from Hub communities throughout the world. Social innovators in the Bay Area are leaving their sterile offices, noisy cafes, and isolated living rooms to work alongside diverse peers in a professionally hosted environment. They choose The Hub because it’s where they find the access, tools, community, and inspiration they need to transform their ideas into action.

At night, The Hub transforms into an event platform for member driven
collaborations, lectures, screenings, innovation labs, and some of the most compelling and imaginative minds from around the world.

I have contacted The Hub to seek comment on their Providence plans (if any), but have not heard back yet. If/when I do I will update this post.

Remember, this is simply a rumor at this point. Feel free to speculate, anyone with more information feel free to add it. But true or not, what do people think of this as a concept for re-use of the Arcade?

Update: 02/27

Photo submitted by Don Beohner

We’ve confirmed that representatives from The Hub are indeed in Providence this week and indeed looking at the Arcade. Thanks to our commenters for filling in some of the blanks. There are some issues to work out. Chiefly, The Hub does not require the entire space that the Arcade offers (the Arcade has about 20,000 extra square feet beyond the size of the largest existing Hubs). The Arcade owner has said they are seeking a single tenant for the building, The Hub will not be that single tenant, but it remains to be seen if The Hub leasing a portion of the building is enough to get the owners to re-open the ground floor to retail (which would be ideal in my opinion).

As pointed out in the comments by Dan, the EDC has been seeking this type of incubator space for entrepreneurs in Providence. If the EDC gets involved with this project, maybe there is something the EDC can do to help close the deal between what the Arcade’s owners are seeking, and the rent and space that The Hub can afford.

Seeing as The Hub is interested enough in Providence to make a visit; if a deal at the Arcade doesn’t work out, where would people like to see The Hub locate in the city?

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 like the idea as long as it’s not the entire Arcade. I would like to see the Arcade become what it once was – a marketplace for local shops and cafes… as long as it stays open later than 5.

    Having a co-working space be a part of that could make it easier for some of the shops and cafes to make enough of a profit to stay open, and if the Hub is open later, it could cause some of those other places to stay open as well.

  • That’s basically my thought on the matter. If the ground level re-opens with retail (mostly food I would imagine) with the upper two levels being The Hub space, then I’m all for it. If The Hub uses the entire space, then I’m all against it.

    Remembering of course this is all just a rumor at this point.

  • Regarding this rumor, if the Hub were to theoretically manage or lease the top two floors, who would manage the ground floor retail, Granoff? Granoff has made it clear that they want out of that business. Obviously they haven’t been very successful because the building had been a losing proposition for years, which is why they closed it. Unless there’s a dramatic office or residential population increase in the area, a fully retail floor could very well fail again, especially given the current economic climate. To reopen and stabilize the building a mix of restaurants, shops, and more active group or non-profit activities might coexist on the ground floor that could later transition to all retail as the neighborhood and economy improves.

    What kind of non-profits or groups could offer more active ground floor uses? Even a few small studio classes (art, acting, architecture) if conducted during daytime hours would help to activate the ground floor along with a few cafes or restaurants and shops.

  • If Granoff doesn’t want to do that, then they should sell the building to someone who does. It’s as simple as that. The building should not be used as a true mall, but more of a local marketplace. It does not need an anchor store, but having something like the Hub anchoring the top portion of the building would work because it’s not just some big retail space. But I doubt The Hub would be buying the space. They’d just be leasing it.

    I like the idea of holding classes in there as well. But the ground floor should be kept for retail… and I’m not talking Best Buy.

  • Maybe the Hub should give Keith Stokes a call and approach Grannoff together. It’s an incubator space for small business which is exactly what the state has been crying for years that we need more of. The Hub could “own” via a long term lease and manage the second and third floor and someone else could take over the first floor. I think some of the first floor could be used to market (and perhaps even sell) some of the things going on upstairs. I think the rest of the first floor could be marketed to one (or two) places to serve food. Think AS220’s space on Empire geared more as a gathering place for the tech-geek crowd as opposed to the art-geek crowd. Whoever runs the first floor restaurant would be assured of getting Providence Geeks in once a month and do a good lunch business if they keep things reasonably priced.

  • As long as there’s complete public access to the building during normal business hours, I’m flexible as to what’s in there. Food on the ground floor again makes sense.

    As for the ” building had been a losing proposition for years” bit, this is popular wisdom, but has anyone, at any time, offered hard data to support it?

  • It is indeed true that the Hub North America was here on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th. I had the good fortune to connect with them through my network. We toured the Arcade on Monday with the Hub, Dan Baudouin of the Providence Foundation, Michael Abbott of Newport Collaborative Architects (the Arcade architect) and a few other key people.

    On Tuesday, we met with several of our fine city’s leaders and entrepreneurs, and also introduced the Hub to Social Venture Partners at the Social Enterprise RI meeting. There is high interest in a Hub Providence. and it would be a perfect fit for the Arcade, as it’s in the heart of downtown, in the center of the financial district, and is a brilliant jewel in the crown of Providence’s architectural and commercial heritage.

    It’s true that the Arcade poses significant challenges, other groups have looked at the Arcade, and Hubs only require 3000-7000sf. The Arcade is about 27000sf. That said, a Hub Providence could be a magnet to create a Center for Design, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship in the Arcade. To address an earlier comment about space usage: the vision was to create co-working and shared spaces on the second and third floors, with a large communal space/conference area for member/tenant interaction, meetings, best practices workshops, etc. The first floor would be vibrant flow of eateries, retail, possibly social enterprise ventures, and a gallery space for events, a showcase of 2nd/3rd floor projects, workshops, etc. Nothing is set in stone, as each Hub responds to the needs of the community. Integrating retail and other businesses (e.g., barber shop) on the upper floors is possible.

    That said, although the Arcade would be the ideal, we are following the developers’ law: “Don’t fall in love with the building”, and will explore other options.

    If you are interested in following the development of our efforts, please email me at eva at glasswingdesign dot com.

    Eva Anderson

    * There are 16 Hubs in Europe, Tel Aviv, Brazil, Berkeley, and one under development in Minneapolis. Members are entitled to go to any global Hub and share space when visiting those cities. To find out more:

  • Thanks Eva,
    I took a look at the website. From what I could see, this would be the first Hub on the East Coast. I think Providence would be a great location for it.

  • “The Hub” people were there this morning (Wed), about 15 with pens and phones in hand.
    It would be so nice to have this “life” down here.
    I took a picture of the meeting to post here but doesn’t look like that is possible.
    Anyway,” Rumor Confirmed”

  • I thought we already had a Hub in Providence, but I guess the original Hub has gone the way of all things. I hope I meet some of these people so I can give them directions: turn left past where the Hub used to be.

  • There is a glut of office space downtown. I think the Hub could find a home in a lot of different places. It really comes down to how much visibility they want to have. I said in a previous post someplace that gives it an AS220 feel would be nice but I am not sure what kind of environment they are going for.

  • The Arcade in many ways would be the best location in Providence to situate The Hub. The Arcade is probably the most famous public gathering space in the city. Its central location could be a focal point for the city’s newer economic generators|medical, education, green and information technologies that are dispersed in other areas. An innovative research exchange would mostly replace the Arcade’s former retail heritage. There’s at least a dozen or more local non-profits that could complement The Hub’s activities within the building. This redefinition of the Arcade could reenergize and shift the focus of the Financial District, as well as transform the city.

    If the Arcade deal were to fall through, alternatives could be the Old Stone Bank Building (the gold dome) or the original Providence Journal Building on Westminster and Eddy streets.

  • I’d just like to say that I sincerely hope The Hub decides to come to Providence regardless of the location. The Arcade seems to have plenty of upside for this type of activity, but at the end of the day, it would super awesome just to be on their map!

  • I think the state (and the city) has to get involved in some way to make the Arcade happen. Hub leases the 7,000 sf they need and the state uses its resources to market and find other entities willing to take up the rest of the 20,000 sf. I can’t imagine some small green tech start-ups not wanting to use some of the additional sf and be associated with something like the Hub. Think of something akin to artist loft spaces (probably no live in though). Maybe there is some federal money that will subsidize build out for office space or lease\\rent costs. And lets not forget the Academic angle. J & W has a thriving IT program, RISD has new programs exploring art in a digital world, Brown is making advancements in med-tech all the time. It just seems like a win-win all around.

  • I think one of the problems with the Arcade is that the building needs -significant- capital upgrades to open, like plumbing, air conditioning, weatherization, and restoration. It’s not easy to run anything in a building that gets past ninety degrees in the summer and costs a fortune to keep lukewarm in the winter.

    I think it was losing money under the last owners, even though they had tax breaks and such, I’m not sure a non-profit could prop the thing up. Right now retail in Rhode Island is not ‘if you build it, they will come’ (read: Dynamo House, North Main Street’s ‘plywood windows’ retail district, Reflections, etc.).

    The building is important though, really beautiful and historically significant. I think if anyone should do anything with it, the city should buy it (cheap!), throw ARRA money at it to modernize the utilities, and then hold it (possibly ‘renting’ to places like the Hub) until the market improves, then it can be sold to a retail management co. that pays taxes and hosts businesses.

  • This might be belaboring the obvious, but it’s rather poignant to see people on the steps of the Arcade entering the building in the photo taken the day The Hub people were in town.

    The 2 year closing of the institution that continuously operated for 180 years has to be one of the more tragic periods in a city that has no shortage of tragic events in its past.

  • I spoke to one in the group of individuals you refer to who were touring the Arcade and they were not from the HUB. I was told that they were a group of salvage contractors who were bidding on the building components. Apparently there is an idea floating out there to convert the property to a one story state of the art cluster of conferencing centers with small areas to handle catering and small retreat meeting rooms.
    I think there is a real need for such a facility in the Providence area.

  • SALVAGE CONTRACTORS! You’re kidding. Single story? Does this mean that they’re planning to tear the building down or just strip it. If there’s a need for a “cluster of conferencing centers” with catering, there’s a handy supply of surface parking lots not to mention empty construtions sites more suited for a new stucture designed specifically for that kind of use. This is one of the most important and unique buildings in Providence. It’s famous! If this is true there’s a good possibility the building could be irrevocably trashed or destroyed.

  • If the Arcades building components were to end up in a salvage yard, or heaven forbid, should their demise be to a foundry, I share your concerns. Efforts should be made to preserve some of the historic craftsmenship in the building, especially the ornate handrails . It would be a shame to find out that the rails end up in a private residence where the public can’t have access to see and appreciate them.

  • The owner’s plan has long been to get a single tenant for the Arcade, which is why everyone was kicked out last year. This is also why PPS place the Arcade interior on their 10 Most Endangered list last year.

    The Arcade’s selling point in my eye is the interior, a Conference Center could go anywhere, and would likely be better suited in a building not designed like the Arcade is. I suppose if you gut the interior, then anything can be built out inside.

    The Hub model seems interesting because they don’t want the entire building, so it could remain mixed-use. But the owner does not want to lease part of it, and have mixed-use, they want to lease all of it.

    A conference center that would take the whole building, seems strange to me. If you remove what makes the Arcade special, then why use it? Wouldn’t a conference center be better suited at a location like the old BCBS building in LaSalle Square. You know, across the street from the Convention Center and steps to the Hilton and Westin?

  • A conference center is a program that is something in between a hotel and a convention center. The size is usually 40,000 to 60,000 sf. The catering facilities and other back of house functions usually require a third of the area of the building. In most cities conference centers are part of or adjacent to hotels. What really makes no sense with this is that the Arcade doesn’t have loading facilities, which is often a prerequisite, not to mention parking. The Arcade’s floor plate dimensions are fairly narrow for one of these centers, that’s unless they’re contemplating eliminating the central circulation walkway. Also, most of the city’s hotel rooms aren’t really nearby nor is the convention center. Just as Jef mentioned the old BCBS the Forarty Building would also be a better candidate.

  • When I initially heard of the Conference center, my initial thought was that a conference center was reasonable idea for Arcade because of the large floor area and the possibilty of high ceilinged video.
    To locate the center away from the convention center probably makes much sense since the Convention Center would be the major competitor to a new center. I believe ther e is a newly opened Hampton Inn hotel adjacent to the Arcade also. Could the idea of a new Center possibly be part of a master plan ?

  • I’m a bit ignorant as to what exactly a “conference center” is, but I’m under the impression that it would be symbiotic to the Convention Center, not competitive. The Westin for example was mandated to have conference space in order to be built attached to the Convention Center, and min-conventions (conferences) take place in the Westin (and the Biltmore and to a lesser extent, Hotel Providence).

    Am I correct in thinking that as part of a larger convention, an exhibitor may want to have expanded space, or meetings in a conference center? I’m thinking of my Toy Fair experiences where everyone shows at Javits, but the Toy Building was also all opened. Conventioneers would spend time at both and have a different experience at each.

    To Dave’s point, I wouldn’t be surprised that a conference center was part of a larger plan for the Hampton Inn (I can’t keep the ownership straight on everything down there, but they are interconnected). And let’s face it, Providence is small enough that it could work. I just imagine that having all that activity happen in a very close geographic space, walk across the street rather than walk across town, would be more beneficial.

  • Whose master plan? Yes the Hampton Inn is across the street. It in itself would not likely be able support a conference center, even a small one. If the W had been built, it would be a different story. Conference/conventions centers, hotels, and restaurants are more successful when they work cooperatively when attracting tourism and convention business. It’s irresponsible and callous to propose gutting a significant historic building that was the first of its kind in North America to shoehorn a use into it that would be more appropriate at another location and building. And to suggest making such an alteration because it would provide for a good video experience is insulting.

    It’s bad enough that the Arcade was renovated in the 80s to imitate a 20th century shopping mall. Prior to that renovation the ground floor worked more like an indoor street. Each shop had storefront windows with their own door. It didn’t matter then that the main circulation space was minimally heated in winter and not air conditioned in summer. You were out of the rain or snow and shielded from the sun.

    The idea of the HUB taking a portion of the Arcade that would easily relate to the established academic community in the neighborhood is reasonable and would be great if it happens. In this economic time proposing retail is a very tough sell anywhere in the country, though that would be the ideal use of the building, or at least on the ground floor. Because of the current owner and their requirements, the challenge is finding a single tenant that won’t destroy the building.

  • Jef, A conference center is a small version of a convention center. They may have several ball room/auditorium spaces a dozen or more meeting rooms of varying sizes and conference rooms (like you would find in an office). Usually they have banquet capability. Besides their size they usually don’t have the larger size events space, which is more typical of a convention center. Conference centers are often part of hotels. Examples: Hyatt in Denver or the Marriot Marquis in Times Square.

  • I can’t get past it either. Is anybody at PPS or in planning aware of this? If not, they should be. Somebody really needs to do something.

  • I’ve seen a couple people here call the Arcade “famous.” As someone who recently moved to Providence, I have to tell you – it’s not really famous. It may have been the first building of its type, and I agree it would be a shame for it to be gutted, but I think calling it “famous” is really a stretch.

    I grew up in Kansas City where we have the Country Club Plaza. It was the first shopping center designed for shoppers arriving by car. What? You’ve never heard of it? But it’s famous!

  • The Arcade has shown up in just about every textbook on American architecture that I’ve seen (not to mention any travel article ever written on Providence). So yeah, I guess it’s not a household name, but to anyone who knows architecture, it’s pretty damn famous. Aside from that, it’s an amazing piece of architecture in and of itself, and the only remaining example of its type in the country. These people have no right, in my mind. Unfortunately we insist on giving people their property rights.

  • Just for kicks, I went onto the National Park Service’s page dedicated to National Historic Landmarks.

    The Providence Arcade was designated a NHL in 1976. While any interior renovations are, sadly, allowed as the site describes, any federal monies used towards rehabilitation WILL have some governance towards the protection of the interior. Property owners have the right to do whatever they want towards their property, even if it is designated a National Historic Landmark.

    I wonder how PPS would react to such a proposal?
    There has to be some way to rehabilitate the structure without drastically altering the interior. The interior is what completes the building – the historical significance will be sorely jeopardized if any “salvaging” of the interior were to take place….

  • The Arcade is not famous like George Clooney or Betsy Ross, no. Famous may be the wrong word, renowned would be better perhaps. Amongst those who make knowing about buildings and architecture and urban form their business, the Arcade is quite well known.

    And I have heard of the Country Club Plaza, again not famous perhaps, but as one who likes to know about such things, Country Club Plaza is known to me.

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