Greater City Providence

PBN: RISD students re-imagine the Arcade

The Providence Business News ran this story the other day about students in RISD’s Architecture Department who presented design proposals for the vacant Arcade to the building’s owner, Evan Granoff.

Without having the proposals to look at, I didn’t really think there was much to talk about and just threw a link to the story up on our Facebook page. Perhaps after the winter break, I’ll contact RISD and see if we can get a look at what the student’s proposed. But in the meantime, I figure, what the heck, if people are bored over the holiday, here’s something to discuss.

PBN reports on the student project:

RISD professor Friedrich St.Florian said the proposals ranged from hotels to building a spa on the third floor, and restoring retail and restaurants to the ground level. All the proposals keep the more than 182-year-old Arcade as the hub of the development and the main entrance. The students also incorporated the lots on either side of the Arcade, including the one with the façade of the Providence National Bank Building.

Granoff told the PBN that the proposals were impressive, but not economically feasible (I have to wonder if economic feasibility was not part of the student’s design brief, or if Granoff is just being obstinate). The PBN article concludes that Granoff is working on a plan to reuse the building (which keeps it intact) and details of that plan should be revealed “early next year.”

Breath is not being held.

One of our readers forwarded his idea of how the building should be used:

My (rudimentary) idea ever since Granoff closed it.

  • Ground floor = small scale food concession/retail
  • 2nd floor = small office spaces or office condos -or- larger footprint sit-down restaurants
  • 3rd floor = 1-2 large commercial tenant(s) or mix of sit-down restaurants and commercial tenants

Providence would be wise to make this our version of Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market…

For some holiday weekend discussion, what would you like to see happen with the Arcade?

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.


  • No doubt we should think of this as a Faneuil Hall type space, and of course we should consider using the surroundings.

    1) With redevelopment we have the opportunity to think coherently about an area of the city we’d like to see more people spending time in so excluding surrounding properties is just a wasted opportunity for smart growth.
    2) It seems that the only businesses that stay successful downtown are food related. And while there are many great restaurants in Downcity, as someone who works in the area I feel there is a glut of food you can “grab and go” that’s at the same quality of sit downs.
    3) Food will bring the people, and if the people come, the shops will open. We have so many abandoned street-level spaces that a ripe for new stores and businesses to open in along the WWW — Weybosset, Westminster, and Washington. Rather than have each of these places try and be a restaurant, let’s create a coherent space for diners who will then spill out into the WWW. With foot traffic will come occupancy and a far more thriving Downcity.

    Add the Core Connector and maybe we can get some of the traffic that heads to the Mall to come to a vibrant street life in Downcity.

  • I always pondered closing the streets on both sides of the arcade along with the intersection of Westminster/Exchange/Weybosset to motor traffic all together. It is hard to drive through and already cobbles in sections. Seize and open up the degrading facade/empty lot and make it a market space next to the Arcade.

    Probably would require some tweaking of the weird kennedy plaza one ways to keep traffic flows alright. The current businesses/restaurants still would still have parking lots near Capriccios on Pine functioning as back parking lots.

  • In 2008, I had gone on vacation to Asheville, North Carolina. During my visit, I ventured into downtown Asheville; the city center reminded me much of Providence, just on a much smaller scale. Located in the center was the Grove Arcade (

    The building was constructed in the late 1920s and was briefly the center of the economic hub of Asheville. It closed during WWII and was owned by the government until the 1990s. Recently, a non-profit was formed and leased the building from its new owners, the city of Asheville. The organization focused on the restoration of the arcade, blending a variety of shops, offices, and residences into the structure. Five stories, residences (42) on the upper floors, offices on the second and third, and retail on the first.

    Enough with the historical background; the organization has created a venue that supports local art (same can tap into Providence’s arts community), small-business entrepreneurs, educational efforts (community based), and diverse restaurant offerings.
    Their mission statement:
    “To effectively operate a premier destination in downtown Asheville filled with successful businesses and educational programs that reflect our mountain heritage and cosmopolitan taste:

    The Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation supports the mission by:

    â– Attracting and supporting a unique variety of retail businesses, restaurants and galleries and offering a mix of food, products and services
    â– Encouraging the sale of locally made products
    â– Creating retail opportunities for locally owned entrepreneurs as well as established retailers
    â– Promoting businesses that provide essential services to the local population
    â– Inviting visitors to seasonal celebrations
    â– Creating a vibrant destination in an elegant setting”

    In Providence, utilizing the historic space with diverse offerings will enable a thriving venue. Adding a mix of businesses that will not only bring in revenue and foot traffic during daytime hours, but also expand on Downcity’s nightlife, is one that should be sought. Often times, I find that Westminster Street after-hours around Bank of America to be desolate whereas, past Dorrance Street there is increased activity. There’s ample parking across the street in the arcade garage. Perhaps something similar to the developments created by Cornish (Peerless Lofts, the renovated storefronts along Westminster, etc etc). Tap into the local arts community, RISD, AS220, etc with galleries, shops, even eateries would be a welcomed addition to downtown Providence while utilizing an intact Arcade.

    The building is listed as a National Historic Landmark, one of the highest forms of federally-designated statuses… the interior is especially significant and part of the historic designation. Other NHLs in RI include Slater Mill, The Breakers, Touro Synagogue, etc. Grants may be available for restoration (especially for NHL-designated structures); however, the Obama Admin unfortunately wiped out the Save America’s Treasures grant..but my knowledge of what else is out there is slim.

    That’s enough for now, I think that with increased interest in the building, renewed interest in Downcity, and potential expansion of transit in and around downtown, the arcade’s 2nd life is due to arrive in the near future…let’s hope it’s one the city can be proud of…

  • I’d like to see a reading terminal type farmers market/food court. Nothing too fancy but a place you can get a great lunch, or groceries for dinner at the end of the day.

    But until office space is filled, and there is a greater density of wealth downtown I’m not sure any merchant type food solution works. Amenities seems to do ok, but Souper bowl, down city diner, and eat providence all seem to struggle, and quiznos, jimmy johns, and petit mange have all within recent memory bitten the dust.

    In the meantime, Perhaps the brown school of philosophy can move there -it does feel like Socrates could berate you from either set of steps. Or a watchdog organization dedicated to the separation of church and state can return to it’s cradle, and set up shop within.

  • I would love to see the Arcade developed into Faneuil Hall type of space. I’m not sure the hotel idea would be the greatest idea for that space,but a mix of shops and restaurants could be cool.

  • In the 1980s, when the Arcade was remodeled, the idea was to emulate Faneuil Hall. I’m not sure, but the design team may have been the same for both buildings. The Arcade’s food venues and retail shops were more diverse and high-end during that period than in recent years.

    Before the 80s mall-ification of the ground level, each shop had individual storefront windows with separate entry doors, which made it easier to have a mix of shops and food establishments on the ground floor.

    The lack of Downtown foot traffic and anchor retail is a major contributor to the Arcade’s demise, a topic for other discussions.

    It shouldn’t be at all difficult to re-establish the ground floor “food-court” with new food establishments. The upper floors are more problematic. Non-profit groups or arts organizations could be relocated to the upper floors. Non-profit groups are presently paying rent somewhere else. Why not in the Arcade?

  • This may have already been brought up, but if it has, then I haven’t seen it yet. Why aren’t we using the Arcade for the winter farmer’s market? It’s the perfect space, and it’s more convenient for most people than going all the way to Pawtucket. It seems obvious to me. It isn’t a long term fix, but it would get a lot of people from around the state into the building (and into downtown on an otherwise dead Saturday morning) who wouldn’t otherwise think of it. The more interest you drum up among the public, the more pressure it puts on the owner to do something creative and/or responsible with the place. Plus, it only happens once a week, so it isn’t as if they’d have to run the utilities all the time, which is a big part of the problem here it seems.

    Also, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: eminent domain.

    People seem to recoil at the idea, but the fact is that if any case can be made for it, this is it. This is what Kelo vs New London was all about.

  • No farmer’s market because the building owner is being obstinate and insisting that he needs to find one single tenant to rent the whole building or nothing.

    If someone like Cornish owned it, you can bet there would be winter festivals and art exhibits and whatever they could get going on in there until they found a viable financial plan. Remember when the winter farmer’s market was in the ground floor of Peerless before those spaces were fitted out and rented? It is a matter of civic duty and pride, some developers have it, some don’t.

  • It would be a better way to show off the buildings assets to a potential bidder to have activities going on in and around it. Reminds of the way Sovereign Bank uses the nearby Turk’s Head to sponsor ballroom dancing and bands on Waterfire nights.

  • Well, TD Banknorth is sponsoring the ballroom now since Sovereign backed out, but yes. I imagine that is why Cornish tried to make the Peerless as active as possible ahead of having rentable space ready. It also helps that Cornish owns most of the block and wanted to create as much foot traffic as possible for its other retailers.

    Is Granoff part of the investment team that did the Hampton Inn? One would think that they wouldn’t want a vacant mall sitting in front of their hotel. But perhaps I’m mistaken, probably why I’m not a hotelier or a mall owner.

  • ProJo has more detail on the RISD student plans in an article published today. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

  • Wouldn’t it be kinda cool to have a consortium of continuing education organizations put offices in here, as well as offer on site lunch time learning opportunities. Like the RISD Museum putting their lunch time lectures there, Bryant offering lunch time classes, J&W having cooking classes etc, Learning Connection offering a lunch time class in bath tiling, you get the idea.

    You take your lunch and go learn something. The institutions whose mission is to get local adults onto their campuses/classrooms have an introduction to a concentration of folks that can see what they’re up to over the course of a lunch hour.

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