Greater City Providence

Building proposed at 50 Cedar Street

Rendering from The Omni Group’s marketing material [.pdf] of the proposed building at 50 Cedar Street (without the clock tower)

On next week’s City Plan Commission Meeting Agenda is a proposal by The Omni Group to contruct a 6-story office building with internal parking at 50 Cedar Street on Federal Hill.

The building would be 6-stories tall with the upper four being commercial and the lower two being parking. Access on foot would be via Cedar Street and garden space on Jones Street. Vehicle access to the first level would be via Cedar Street and an entrance to the second level of parking would be via Bradford Street.

Courtyard at Jones Street side of the building

The developer desribes the amenties of the building in their marketing material as:

  • 4 Floors – 15,000 square feet per floor
  • 60,000 square feet of rentable space
  • Engergy efficient design
  • Green building technology
  • 2-levels of under building parking
  • On-site storage
  • Private fitness center
  • Courtyard with sitting area
  • Open floor plate
  • Custom design and build out
  • Panoramic views of downtown
  • Integrated security and access control

The Planning Department’s report to the CPC suggest approval of the Master Plan propsal.

Based on the analysis and findings contained in this report, the Commission should approve the Master Plan stage of development
subject to the following conditions:

  1. The CPC should grant the requested relief for the side yard setback on Jones and Bradford Streets.
  2. The applicant shall consult with the City Forester to refine the landscaping plan to better suit the streetscape.
  3. The applicant shall conduct a traffic study to determine the impact of the development on traffic flow in the vicinity.

So do we like this project? Well…

Yes and no. A sizable office development on Federal Hill is welcome. The fact that Omni wants to expand the footprint of the West Exchange Center is certainly welcome and engouraging. Almost anything other than the sad parking deck that sits at this corner now is welcome.

Existing sad parking deck

It’s just that”¦ parking garage entrances on the two main road facades? Sigh. Certainly this is not Atwells Avenue – forcing the developer to put retail on the ground floors that will just fail because there is next to no foot traffic in this neighborhood would be a burden. However, this is one of the highest profile corner lots of a neigborhood that could, in years to come, if the rest of the lots on Cedar Street are developed with more offices and housing, have a modicum of foot traffic, maybe enough for a corner store or a dry cleaner or something.

The current sad parking deck has entrances on Cedar Street for the lower level and Jones Street for the upper level. This building proposes to lower the height of the decks so that the 3rd floor of the building (the first occupied floor) will only be slightly above the level of Jones Street. This is why there is a garage entrance and Bradford Street. Certainly having the Jones Street facade be occupied space is better than it being a parking garage.

I would encourage the developer to design the building in such a way as the ground level could at a future date be converted easily to retail spaces if the market in the neighborhood called for it. Closing the parking entrances on Cedar Street and making that ground level retail while leaving the entrance to the second level parking on Bradford Street.

Cedar Street Elevation
Cedar Street Elevation
Click image to enlarge

Bradford Street Elevation
Bradford Street Elevation
Click image to enlarge

Site Plan (Cedar Street at right)

So, what do we think?

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.


  • At this point I’m in favor of any proposal that doesn’t involve tearing an existing building down.

  • Seems like the most practical proposal we’ve seen in a while. Honestly shocked at the rendering(s) and proposed use, appears they have done some research. Anything would be best at this point. Sometimes we have to give a little (retail frontage) to get something.

  • The most attractive aspect is that it fits in seamlessly with the other buildings in the neighborhood.
    The least attractive aspect is that it is emphatically not a sexy design.
    The building is reasonably attractive, and if they think they can fill the space then it seems a good option that will not be out of place if/when the rest of the neighborhood redevelops.

  • I am just happy to see someone building an office building in this city. Anybody know if they have tenants yet?

  • I think there are too many driveways as well. On the other hand, is there much of chance of this becoming a walkable neighborhood? I guess I don’t see it doing much beyond being more of a commercial zone, mostly because of the 6/10 and 95 blockades. You can’t really walk anywhere from here other than Atwells anyway, and there are better residential areas to develop with access to Atwells. Obviously West Exchange also connects to downtown, but does so underneath the 6/95 cloverleaf, and then requires walking underneath the convention center garage.

    I will say that due to a recent surgery for my father, I have spent a lot of time in the Longwood area of Boston, which has a lot of parking garages entrance/egress on the side streets. As such, you don’t see a lot of pedestrian traffic other than on the main roads. I see this as a similar kind of thing, the question becomes whether we are willing to just let Cedar be the “back alley” of West Exchange and Spruce/John. I don’t think this would be a terribly bad thing because of the reasons I note above, but Jef’s point that it would be nice for them to be able to change their mind in the future is well stated.

  • I’m with brick on this one. I have never seen that part of the hill being anything more than a commercial zone. I’d actually like to see a parking garage with 4-5 levels built back there. Reserve space for the valets to get those cars off the street and open up the surface lots for development.

    I see Spruce as more of a residential/retail zone, but not Cedar or West Exchange.

  • Nice! With any luck it’ll be available by 2013! That’s when the lease where I work is up. It’d be nice to be able to walk to work and back!

  • It is indeed good to see a sizeable new commercial building going up and to replace an eyesore (at best) of a parking “structure.” I’m guessing that the relative lack of open spaces in their existing West Exchange buildings (according to their website) allows them to feel like there is more commercial lease demand out there. I hope they are right…

  • Well, very much akin to Providence Place and like commercial structures of the past 20 years or so around here, it’s a crap design/completely bog-standard and without-qualities raw space with a fairly low-visal/architectural-literacy ‘contextual’ wrap, but, that being said, it’s inoffensive enough, I suppose, and the tweaks suggested are all well and good, so maybe it will get there. On balance, I agree with Matt that it’s a blessing that they’re not tearing down a far, far better building to build this particular piece of ho-hum whatever, so score a half point of omission for Providence’s future.

  • I tried to go last night, but the door was locked at 5:05pm so I went home and drank a beer.

  • A decent looking building. At least the garagey half is on the downhill side.

    Every new building can’t be some architectural star. When that happens, the resulting streetscape is not appealing. Lets hear it for background buildings.

    I am saving my complaining energy for the plenty of worse stuff out there.

  • I wonder, though, if the public was literally locked out of the meeting, whether they have to do the meeting over, regardless of what transpired.

  • I am not familiar with that particular location, but I think your point of the location of the parking garage on the first floor and the potential for future change is on target. Too often, we can’t see past today.

  • PBN has a report. CPC approved the plan to go forward and to start demolition of the existing sad parking deck, but will require more detailed plans before approval to build is granted.

    Omni plans to start construction later this year and for construction to take 12 months.

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