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The Arcade: Cautious Optimism

Arcade

Rumors have been swirling about the Arcade since, well probably since 1828 when it was built, but certainly since 2008 when Granoff kicked out all the retailers and closed it.

I’ve heard all manner of stories about the place over recent years but haven’t written about any of them because I’m very much of the “I’ll believe it when I see it,” opinion. The rumors however are ramping up now with GoLocalProv reporting about it earlier this month and PBN reporting on it today, and a special event scheduled for Wednesday with the Mayor and Governor attending. So, the noise has risen to the point where I must write about it.

The plan according to information gathered by GoLocalProv and PBN is to re-open retail on the ground floor and convert the 2nd and 3rd floors to residential uses.

First. Was it necessary to kick out the retailers and close the joint for 4 years in order to build apartments on the upper floors? Sure, there are costs to having the building open, but there were rent paying tenants and those tenants had customers (myself among them). Whatever, I’m always first to admit that I’m not an economist, maybe closing down made the most sense for the owners. So, yay, they’re going to re-open it.

But wait, PBN asked Granoff’s spokesperson for details, the spokesperson was mum, but PBN published this:

However, multiple sources with knowledge of the plans told PBN they will include more than 40 small apartments in the second and third floor spaces that used to be occupied by shops. The apartments, which will not have full kitchens, will be targeted to young people and professionals looking for a small space to stay downtown while on business.

People, I lived in New York (yes, I’m cool like that), we call an apartment without kitchens for “young people and professionals looking for a small space to stay downtown while on business” a pied-à-terre.

While it is not the definitive source for information, Wikipedia describes a pied-à-terre thusly:

A pied-à-terre (French, “foot on the ground”) is a small living unit usually located in a large city some distance away from an individual’s primary residence. It may be an apartment or condominium.

The term pied-à-terre implies usage as a temporary second residence, either for part of the year or part of the work week, by a person of some means.

I love Providence, I’m one of its biggest boosters even as I point out how the sidewalks are unshoveled and other grave problems, but really, I love it. But does anything in that definition sound like Providence? “Large city?” “Some distance from primary residence,” some distance from East Greenwich? “Person of means?” This is not Providence, I’m sorry. For the few people who are of means and can’t be bothered to drive to East Greenwich every night we have a nice collection of lovely hotels without kitchens for them to stay in.

When GTECH moved to town, and when they got bought by Italians there was some talk of them building a hotel in Capital Center to host Italian executives and other out of town guests, but they decided they didn’t need (could not afford to build) an entire hotel, so they have arrangements with existing hotels. I’m sorry, I see no market for pied-à-terres in Providence. As much as I would like for us to be that city, we are not.

Back to the rumors, one I heard for a while was dorms. What are dorms? Apartments without kitchens. I leave you to connect your own dots.

Update:

You may notice I’ve changed the name of this post, “cautious optimism” is what I’m feeling about this project now, I have some concerns and a few minor unanswered questions, but if this is successful as proposed it will be good for the building and good for the city (and presumably good for the developer as well).

It is not a strict historic renovation of the building, and as such, there are concerns. Obviously it is no longer 1828, needs change, technologies change, I’m not a wrapped in amber preservationist, but I don’t want to see changes too far alter a structure, especially if those changes would be hard to change back if need be.

As far as changing though, the proposed changes are much better than the original proposal to find a single tenant for the building which could have resulted in far greater degradation of the historic interior. From what I’ve heard talking to people yesterday both online and in person, there will be some very great restoration of the ground floor back to more of what existed in 1828 versus the mid-20th century renovations that exist today. As this will be the public face of the building, these renovations are most welcome.

The upper floors have always been the hardest to deal with from a real estate development perspective, and this is where it not being 1828 anymore comes into play. The proposal maintains the atrium of the building up through to the roof, happily, there is not proposal to install floors over the atrium to expand either of the upper floors. As for the treatment of the interior facades on the upper floors, it is not clear to me yet how those will be handled.

The good news also is that Granoff is a known entity. He is accessible to the community, he is a member of the community, he’s not some faceless developer with an office in Fort Meyers or something. If anything about the stewardship of this building goes off the rails, we can find him and express our concerns about it to him. And though the closing of the building and the ending of retail leases in 2008 may have been an unpopular move, Granoff has taken great care of the building over the time it has been vacant ensuring no harm has come to it, more than can be said for many (most?) other vacant buildings in this city.


See also: Arcade Providence

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79 Responses to The Arcade: Cautious Optimism

  1. BEE January 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    It might just be fabulous. Time will tell.

  2. Al Chin January 20, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Two possible answers. RISD and Brown “out of town” adjunct faculty.

  3. MikeArden January 20, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Its just a hotel.

  4. Liam January 20, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    And we need more residences downtown why?

  5. Jason January 21, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    With so much vacant, developed space downtown I still think we need to move toward creating more reasons to live here not more places to live here.

  6. Peter Brassard January 21, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    It’s unfortunate that Granoff or the city lacked the vision or desire to develop the building into a version of Boston’s Faneuil Hall or Seattle’s Pike Street Market. If the city had given a short- or medium-term tax incentive to Granoff to do something similar with the Arcade, the owner might not have felt that is was necessary to close the building to begin with and conduct a four-year search for a “single-use tenant” that never materialized.

    The idea of pied-a-terres or apartments or dorms or a hotel on the upper levels might not be the worst option given that the building is now closed. Key elements of the building’s interior the balconies, skylights, and ground floor retail would be preserved. There would be people in the building 24 hours a day. It’s a better option than gutting the building for a single-use tenant. The building could always be converted back to full retail in the future.

    Obviously suburban residents from East G would not likely have a pied-a-terre in the Arcade. With the schools, medical, biotech, and IT industries in the city, there could actually be a market for furnished pied-a-terre or extended stay units, which offers something in between an apartment and a hotel room. Though non-traditional, it could be beautiful.

    The reopening of the Arcade, even with this proposed mixed program, would have a positive effect on Downtown and would continue to reverse the damage caused by the general decline over the last several decades, as well as, the more recent effects of the opening of the mall and the current economic downturn.

    Ten years ago the Arcade may have been open, but Westminster and Weybosset Streets had mostly shuttered storefronts. There were hardly any people on the streets. Today even in this negative economic environment there are new shops, restaurants, and a food market Downcity. A reopened Arcade along with more people living in the area and more retail will reinforce this ongoing revival.

  7. Andrew I January 21, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    “small apartments… not have full kitchens…”

    Gee, when I lived in New York that is what was called an SRO. Single Room Occupancy. Bureaucratese for flophouse.

    Snark aside, a well run SRO is a perfectly sensible answer to certain affordable housing needs. There should be more of them.

    Pied a Terre, Dorm, SRO, whatever. I approve, unless they are going to replace the funky old glass and wood shopfronts in the upper floors with blank walls and steel doors with peepholes.

  8. Tony P January 21, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    There’s another term for an apartment without amenities. It’s called flophouse.

    I don’t think this latest Granoff plan has a prayer. They won’t even run plumbing?

    And that they started screwing with the retailers they had a somewhat thriving little development.

    Alas, it will be forty mostly EMPTY apartments, devoid of any people because parking is expensive and who is going to pay for an apartment with no kitchen, hardly any parking?

    I think a move by JWU for dorms is spot on.

  9. Peter Brassard January 21, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    If the units are to have bathrooms, it’s possible to have an adjacent kitchenette with sink, microwave and refrigerator, and even a two-burner stovetop. This is done all the time. If there’s no bathroom, there’s no residential unit.

    Maybe I’m giving Granoff too much credit imagining that the dwelling units might be more than an SRO or dorm standard. In other cities, not only New York, and even in suburban office areas this kind of unit is popular with corporations and institutions to house people who have temporary stays of a few weeks to a few months to work on short-term projects. An entire line of “extended stay” hotel brands has been developed over the last decade to serve this market.

    I might be jumping the gun but, but if Granoff wants to make money, then developing the residential units as high-end as possible would be the most lucrative, especially considering the location and building.

    My preference would be to repopulate the Arcade with retail, but if the owner was losing money on it for decades, it’s not likely that they’ll do that.

    I agree with Andrew that the upper floor glass storefronts should be preserved, since they already screwed up the ground with a food court. Look up what the ground floor looked liked prior to 1980.

  10. Jef Nickerson January 21, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Doesn’t the Hampton Inn across the street have extended stay units?

  11. Brian Jepson January 21, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    When I was in college a couple decades ago, I lived in two different SROs right near campus. One (Kingston Inn) was very livable, though it didn’t have a proper kitchen: just a small sink, space for a half fridge, and room for a microwave (and it had a bathroom). I had a unit with its own entrance, which meant I could grill right outside my door, so I was a little spoiled.

    The other SRO, which I won’t name, was borderline flophouse: shared bath, shared kitchen, and very poorly kept. The landlord would visit only to turn the heat down.

    I think there’s a market for this in any city/town/village with colleges and businesses; for some it could be a primary residence, for others, a place to sleep/work while in the city.

    Heck, I’d be tempted to rent something like this: even though Kingston is “only” a 40 minute drive from Providence, I greatly prefer to take Amtrak (20 minutes with Wi-Fi beats 40 minutes driving). I’d be up in Providence more often if I had an affordable place to stay downtown, especially if it could double as an office. It’s not unusual for me to take a hotel room for things like the RI Mini Maker Faire, and I’ll be staying at the Hotel Providence for next weekend’s Betaspring hardware hackathon.

    But something tells me that whatever this is will be more than I can afford.

  12. JBouchard January 21, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    While I love the news of the possibility of reopening the Arcade, I have to question their plans for the interior.

    I’ve stated somewhere on GCPVD before regarding the historic status of the building. The Providence Arcade is a National Historic Landmark. To simplify: it’s probably one of the highest platforms and designations an historic structure could receive in the US (unless deemed a World Heritage Site, but that’s a different story). The Arcade shares this status with other Rhode Island landmarks such as Newport’s Touro Synagogue, The Breakers; Lincoln’s Arnold House; and Providence’s First Baptist Meetinghouse, College Hill Historic District, Gov. Lippitt House, etc etc.

    The work proposed could jeopardize the building’s historic status. Realizing that RI has nixed any incentives for historic rehabilitation for landmarks, commercial or residential…and Washington has basically done the same thing with some major funding sources (I believe Save America’s Treasures was also axed?). In the event that these programs or other future options become available, the Arcade without that NHL status can really damper some much-needed restoration funding.
    I believe losing it can also mean levying fines…but I have to look into that.

    The Arcade’s exterior is significant, but it is the interior that is most significant.

    I hope the work proposed pays very close attention to the level of detail the interior currently has. Removal/gutting of storefronts would alter the historic status. Think of, say, the First Baptist Church gutting the interior and installing a state-of-the-art sound system, modern seating…there goes the very fabric that makes the building historically significant. The same applies with removal of storefronts in the Arcade.

    I hope the Providence Revolving Fund gets involved with this project; PRF would be an excellent guide to any work proposed.

    I think apartments is a great idea… however, I am not fond of closing off the second floor to retail. The retail should exist on the first AND second floor…. keep the apartments upstairs. Somehow research methods to increase the number of apartments without sacrificing the storefronts and the second floor retail space.

  13. bill January 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Does anyone remember when people actually lived downtown? I do and did. Then they kicked us all out to build lofts and Pied a poos for all the artists they were gonna attract. But when they kicked the actual artists out, the businesses they frequented left too. And the “A”rtists really never showed up. Closing the Arcade was just another stupid idea driven by quick cash. And now poo pooed by those who turned a blind eye to the whole fiasco while it happened. I’ve lived in Providence my whole adult life, and I almost never go downtown anymore.

  14. jencoleslaw January 21, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Did RI ever fix that loophole about prostitution being ok as long as it was inside?

  15. Jef Nickerson January 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    If by fix, you mean it is no longer legal inside, then yes, they did.

    But there are still things I’ll do for a cupcake, General Assembly rules be damned.

  16. Peter Brassard January 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    What are the possible solutions? Eminent Domain with a city that’s broke or should occupy set up encampments on both sets of the Arcade steps? Maybe well heeled preservationists should riot. Or should it become a 21st century Masonic Temple and left vacant for 70 or 80 years so no one destroys it. Would Granoff’s sell and if they would what’s the price and who has the money to buy it?

  17. Jef Nickerson January 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    It is exceedingly depressing that our entire economy has melted to the point where we shrug and just take the attitude of, “at least it isn’t empty.” In other cities/countries, this property would be at the forefront of civic and business leaders attention and in another dimension where we haven’t completely lost our civic pride, everyone would be working really hard and rallying to make this the best it could be.

    Part of me really thinks yes, let it sit for 70 years if that is what it takes, it worked for the Masonic Temple, no one having money to ruin or tear stuff down saved our Downtown from “urban renewal.”

    Of course we’re all speculating on word on the street and Granoff has not made their official announcement. Maybe they’ve laid their hands on a massive pot o’ gold and they’re planning a sensitive rehab of the historic structure. Or maybe they’re just planning to slap some crap up to make a buck. And when they fail to make a buck, what then?

  18. jencoleslaw January 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    You gonna head down there on Wednesday Jef, and see what they have to say?

    When they fail to make a buck they’ll use the old chestnut “financial hardship” to tear the building down and put in a temporary parking lot ™

  19. Frank Mullin January 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Great thread, I’m anticipating the announcement also, it’s been too long of nothing-going there. The fact that the building is a National Historic Landmark better/will have to come into play. In the conversation over here (see link, if ok Jef), the biggest concern is what the City is/has given up to have something happen at the site.

    Facebook

  20. Frank Mullin January 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    (Was hoping link would open in new window.)

  21. New Reality January 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    This could be pretty cool. A lot of intential communities these days focus on building residences for personal use (eg sleeping and bathing) while creating shared spaces for other things (eg cooking and socializing). Why not do the same thing in a more urban environment?

    That could be pretty interesting if there is some sort of community kitchen/food incubator/cafe in one/several of the first floor spaces. It could potentially avoid the trappings of a traditional hotel/dorm/hostel environment with good programming and participation from the community (farmers, chefs, musicians, etc).

    I’m sure there are all types of certification/license hoops this would require, but I think it could be cool to do something different.

  22. I {heart} Rhody January 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    I’ll be interested to see how this pans out, too. I’d love to see the Arcade up and running again, but I think it’s a mistake to do anything that might damage/diminish its historic integrity.

    Jbouchard had the right idea about creating housing (if we must) only on the 3rd floor, and having retail available on the first and second. I don’t know how much Granoff needs to turn a profit, but surely any income is better than letting the building go fallow.

    Has anyone seen any building activity going on there?

  23. Liam Blank January 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    I’m glad that they are finally doing something with the Arcade. It should be made into Providence’s own Quincey Market which is basically what this plan is calling for… with the exception of the living space.

  24. jencoleslaw January 22, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Creating housing out of downtown retail will require a use change. I predict they’ll ask for it, it will be denied, and then they will tear it down for the temporary parking lot ™

  25. Frank Mullin January 22, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    nice touch. This is one time I hope you’re wrong Jen. After all the other buildings-became-lots downtown, I think there’d be huge pushback if Granoff tried to say, pull a Tarro.

  26. jencoleslaw January 23, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Frank, I love you, you’re my oldest friend in RI, but you’re nuts if you think that it couldn’t happen here. There is no such thing as “the last time.” If someone in the city’s employ, and technically in the state’s employ as a representative at the same time had no problem tearing down a building that was protected more than once, with no fines or real admonishments from either the city OR the state, what makes you think anything is sacred in Providence?

    I mean, come on (R)

  27. Jef Nickerson January 23, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Thing is, Granoff, or anyone else anywhere else, doesn’t actually have to “pull a Tarro.” Tarro didn’t have to “pull a Tarro.” All one has to do is cry ‘economic hardship’ and the building comes down, and if for some reason that doesn’t work, cut a hole in the roof and seek “emergency demo permit.”

  28. Frank Mullin January 23, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I still hope you’re both wrong. (Ahem) you’ll see.

  29. jencoleslaw January 23, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    I would LOVE to be wrong for once. But you cannot just turn a blind eye to the 20+ years of evidence of no one giving a crap about historic buildings and properties, and their unabashed love of surface parking lots in a city that really should be known for history and architecture and awesome restaurants and schools and less for “where you can park,” not to mention the disgusting weak wills of those in charge of such things.

    Just because Jef and I (and others) are paranoid doesn’t mean there aren’t people out to tear down buildings for their own nefarious purposes.

  30. Frank Mullin January 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Looking forward to what they have to say Wednesday, if Granoff was able to get the Mayor AND the Guv up there with him, I’d like to think this is all high profile enough that 6-8-12 months from now, if nothing is still (not)happening, he still wouldn’t be able to make the building disappear (short of an accidental blaze, I suppose). TBC…

  31. Peter Brassard January 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    If a thousand people showed up at the Wednesday meeting in protest mode “Save the Arcade” and following kept up the pressure, politicians would be hard pressed to allow any accidental or casual future destruction of the building. The problem with Providence has always been a lot of talk and little action, where at best 25 people show up to a protest. With the exception of Occupy, even RIPTA has trouble mustering up a few hundred people to lobby against service cuts. Protests coupled with a mass email campaign would be effective-they would listen. If the readers on this site, the PPS members, and other groups banded together, there could be a positive effect and outcome. It’s doubtful that will happen. If the Arcade were to be radically altered or lost, it would be as much the fault of all of us, not just Granoff.

  32. jencoleslaw January 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    But here’s the thing (and I am sorry to keep beating this horse) but people shouldn’t have to be on alert 24/7 in the city where they pay taxes. There should actually be some faith in local government that it will do the right thing at least part of the time.

    Seriously, does everything have to be a fight, a battle, a rally? What the heck do people pay taxes for if they have to do government’s job? How many times do people have to show up at zoning or CPC to argue against something stupid like a temporary parking lot before someone gets the message that no one (but developers who don’t live in the city) want them?

    I think it is BS to blame things like temporary parking lots, and deforestation of the city, and bad design and terrible policy decision on the people who live in Providence and RI because they didn’t fight enough.

  33. Jef Nickerson January 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Plus one.

  34. Peter Brassard January 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    I fully agree that residents or taxpayers shouldn’t always have to be on guard, but the reality is whether it’s in Rhode Island or anywhere else, they do. Whoever has the loudest voice usually gets their way. For business interests, besides financial influence, they use lawyers and lobbyist to amplify their voices.

    Politicians are rarely experts. It might be obvious to them that to destroy a building is bad, but if a lawyer makes a legal argument that’s “rational” according to the law, politicians will be swayed, unless people are screaming.

    I’ve said this repeatedly on this blog, the real reason behind the continued destruction of Providence is not just greedy developers or property owner, but a body of zoning laws and legal interpretations that will only continue to ravage the city. The topic of zoning is boring and most people don’t like reading it and very few people understand its actual impact.

    At the upcoming City Plan meeting on Tuesday, January 24, there may be minor adjustments to Downtown street wall requirements or creating an overlay district for the 195 land or simplifying the Downtown zones. I strongly doubt that the divine right of surface parking lots will be addressed or even suggesting reducing parking minimum standards throughout the CBD.

    If you want to save a building or make changes, You have to yell.

  35. Bret Ancowitz January 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Wow, Jen… That was pretty profound… Simple, powerful, truthful, but something we all nevertheless forget. Thanks for re-calibrating my thinking on such things.

    Peter’s right as well. The zoning laws and such are certainly responsible to a significant degree. Despite the seeming presence of bright and capable people, I’ve sadly come to the conclusion that the Planning Department is either incapable, unwilling, or unable to lead us out of the morass we’re in. They’ve told us for years that they “get it,” but nothing changes…

    As I’ve said before, I’m not sure who to blame for these trends. The Planning Department? The Mayor’s office? The overall bureaucratic apparatus?

  36. SK January 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    It sounds like it could be a good idea, but I feel like this group that owns the property is just coming up with ridiculous plans for the Arcade. The one-tenant plan was never going to work. This new idea, I like that they would be making the 1st floor retail, but the 2nd & 3rd floors as apartments w/o kitchens is pretty stupid. how will these people eat? My guess is the parking situation is all set with that new lot they paved right next to the Arcade. I’ll believe it when I see it.

  37. Dan January 24, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Not having a full kitchen does not mean no kitchen. In today’s world, it usually means a small refrigerator, a microwave, coffee maker and a sink along with enough counter space for some minimal food prep. Many places are now spec’ing microwaves with convection features to increase functionality. A full kitchen is usually identified by having a stove\oven combination.

    If Granoff is smart. And I am not saying they are. They will have made sure that some local groups (i.e. Brown, J & W, RISD, etc) have already have committed to taking a percentage of the units assuring that it won’t be sitting there empty.

    I do wonder as others have, what this means for the store fronts above the ground floor. Their presence is one of the things what makes the Arcade so attractive. The building (inside and out) is a National Historic Landmark which requires preservation of original features at all cost. They may need to keep the storefronts and erect any walls for the residential units inside those walls.

  38. Jef Nickerson January 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    They have a website which is just a splash screen at the moment.

  39. Jef Nickerson January 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    This:

    The Arcade, America’s oldest indoor mall, will reopen in the fall with a mix of retail and lofts that would retain much of the 1828 building’s historic character, owner Evan Granoff said at a news conference Wednesday.

    …is my biggest concern, “much” of the historic character will be retained… Define, “much.”

  40. Peter Brassard January 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    From Wednesday, 11 am Announcement

    They will be restoring much of the interior and exterior detail that has been lost over time. Rebuilding ground floor bay storefronts (or at least partly) and private entry doors for the retail. Retailers will have windows for displays. The ground floor will include cafe with outside seating and a major restaurant with dining room inside the retail space. The cellar will be reconstructed to provide storage and/or lower level floor space to retail establishments connected by internal stairs between the floors. For residential tenants there will be storage rooms with storage closets and a bike storage room will have a ramp from street level. Reopening and restoring roughly 150 windows on the east and west facades. From the plans all the existing interior windows and doorways on the upper levels will be preserved and utilized. Residential “Micro-lofts” will range from 220 to 800 sq ft, mostly studios but also some 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units. Even the 220 sq ft units had separate living and sleeping areas. 220 sq ft is really small! These are smaller than any hotel room. Units will have built-in furnishings. There will be an on-site laundry, a common lounge, and a game room. Rents will start at $550. They wouldn’t give an upper range for rents.

  41. Jef Nickerson January 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Thanks for the info Peter, I Tweeted a link to your comment.

  42. Jef Nickerson January 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    PBN’s article

  43. Jason January 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Thanks a ton, Peter, very helpful especially compared to hack job in the Projo that lacked key details like price, the larger units, and the window restoration.

    Overall, this sounds better than it did when I first heard the idea, but I’m still pretty skeptical. I really don’t think that 220sqft is competitive for $550 a month unless there are few units and they are very specifically geared toward folks who need more flexible lease terms.

    I am hoping for success– not only is it a beautiful space that could bring much needed life to the Downtown area, but demonstrating that residential space on Westminster and Weybosset needs to be priced at less than $1500 a month (or $1200-1400 at owner-occupied condos) for a one bedroom in order to end the perpetual vacancy.

  44. Jef Nickerson January 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    I think I like the retail plan, I continue to have my doubts about the residential plan. However, if the residential plan works, or doesn’t completely fail, it could perhaps lead to more developers trying it on the edges of Downcity where a pretty nice small unit could be had at rock bottom prices.

    I think a “micro-loft,” especially at prices not too far below what one could get a one bedroom for, is only going to be attractive to short-term renters. But if someone can build comfortable studio apartments, with good proximity to Downtown, and with a really good price, I could see someone signing up for a year.

  45. jencoleslaw January 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Well, that all sounds pretty good, and I hope it all works out and that all my cranky skepticism is proven to be totally off the mark!

    I really do want things to succeed. I look forward to hearing updates on how this is going. Did I miss any kind of state or city help with this project?

    Also, I’d live there in one of the larger spaces. I think it would be wicket cool.

  46. Jef Nickerson January 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    I truly hope it works too, and now that a plan is in place, this is the time when Peter’s point about us staying on them comes into play.

    If there is one thing I’ve learned over my years of covering local development, it is to be skeptical, or at the very least, cautiously optimistic. Still waiting for some more details to emerge, but I think I’m moving toward cautious optimism on this one.

  47. I {heart} Rhody January 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    If the living units come off as well as they make it sound, I’d want to live there too. I’m a little curious as to how they propose to convert the storefronts to housing units without taking out the big storefront windows, and how secure those units would be in the daytime.

  48. Liam January 25, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    Well it could be worse, but I really dont like the apartments on the 2nd floor. The 3rd floor was never a really viable retail space, so that’s cool, but the 2nd floor space was great. I’ll be curious to see some renders.

  49. jencoleslaw January 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Of course, perhaps Granoff is just hoping JW students will demolish the building for them.

  50. guest January 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    Contrary to popular belief, rental housing downtown has been very successful. The Waterplace condos were at full occupancy before they kicked out renters and decided to try to sell them all at once. And the decision to rent the new construction units by the train station to JWU was made before they even tried to rent them out. If the residential units are done well, there is certainly enough of a demand for shorter-term or extended stay units. For example, companies can sign a lease and house visitors in for business there on a short-term basis. The bigger challenge will be securing good retail and restaurant options in an “all at once” approach.

    Better to try something constructive than to do nothing. Writing things off never got us anywhere.

  51. Peter Brassard January 26, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    A few more details: An architect who was there said they had been working on the project for about a year. The cheesy 1980s 2×2 floor tile on the ground floor would be replaced with large-scale stone floor tile in a running-bond pattern.

    There were a lot of dignitaries there, including the governor and the mayor who spoke among others. A representative from the Providence Preservation Society spoke. It sounded as if PPS was aware and involved to some degree through the process. Evan Granoff spoke of the trend for creating micro-lofts in cities around the world and of his experience with renovating other historic Providence properties. $7 million would be spent on the renovation and that they should be finished by fall this year.

    It was absolutely packed from where a stage was set up at the bridge in the middle of the space to the Weybosset Street doors with some spilling outside. It was poignant being there.

    Being in the space and understanding what they were attempting to do, I felt that I would love to live there, if the opportunity came up. My gut opinion is that if they can pull this off, it will be enormously successful. With the many other initiatives Downcity, the Arcade reopening is a critical key element to restoring the area.

    The Arcade is the soul of the heart of the city.

  52. Jef Nickerson January 26, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    New look for The Arcade in Providence: wpri.com

    This WPRI report is the first I’ve seen of any City or State involvement with the project:

    Construction will cost about $7 million and connect Weybosset and Westminster Streets. City leaders approved an ordinance to stabilize the arcades’ property taxes for twelve years to help push the project along.

    If it gets renovations and re-opening to the public of the Arcade, I’m fine with it.

  53. Jef Nickerson January 26, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    I’ve updated the original post with further thoughts on the project.

  54. Dave January 26, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    I’m optimistic about the Arcade reopening. Honestly, I think the coolness of living at the Arcade would wear off quickly for me; but I think there is a real demand for this type of housing. I think it has the potential to infuse the neighborhood with more activity that, hopefully, will encourage more businesses to invest in downtown.

    The idea of the lofts raises, for me, a broader question regarding affordable housing in the downtown area. Admittedly, I’m ignorant of the options, but last time I was looking for a place to rent there were very few spots advertised on Craigslist or Zillow. Those that were advertised were out of my price range . (I’m on a teacher’s salary). Personally, I would love to live downtown, and I think that providing affordable housing downtown would be one of the best things that the city could do infuse life and money into the area.

  55. jencoleslaw January 26, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I think my idea of what things cost is all skewed because I’m down here in NoVA where everything costs a kajillion dollahs, but 7 million does not seem like very much to renovate and build out this project.

    Workforce house, or affordable house or whatever want to call it is an issue everywhere and in the past tax stabilization perks were tied to a certain number of units being priced at below market rate. Any news on whether there’s any kind of deal here?

    It is kind of unfortunate that all this happened behind closed doors (based on the comments it seems the Gov, mayor and PPS were all involved) and was unveiled like a magic show on Wednesday.

  56. Jef Nickerson January 26, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Yes, there is a 12-year City tax stabilization deal.

  57. ML January 27, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    It strikes me that these apartments might be attractive to single medical interns/residents–they don’t get paid too much, they want to live close to the hospitals but in a “safe” neighborhood, many are not planning to put down long-term roots in the area where they do their residency, and they don’t have time to cook anyway.

  58. Jef Nickerson January 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    It would be, but someone needs to convince the interns/residents that Downcity is not scary or un-safe. They have a reputation for eschewing the city, maybe because of their experiences with patients.

  59. Lewis Dana February 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Coming late to this thoughtful commentary, I’d add a further note of hope: the Northeast Collaborative, the architects working for Granoff, have a solid reputation for sensitive handling of historic structures.

  60. I {heart} Rhody February 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Lewis, that is somewhat reassuring. I hope they have the creative control they need.

  61. Jonathan O'Brien February 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Yeah it makes NO sense to have mini apartments with no kitchens. No sense at all!

  62. JBouchard February 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    According to Lewis Dana with their recent posting, NCA is involved in the restoration of the Arcade.

    Northeast Collaborative Architects:
    http://www.ncarchitects.com/index.php

    Having looked at their website, I am familiar with their work. Formerly Newport Collaborative (I believe), other work in Providence includes the Hotel Providence (coincidentally my employer), Hampton Inn & Suites downtown (across from the Arcade), and RISD’s Fletcher Building (on Weybosett; building that houses Gourmet Heaven on the ground floor)….

    There’s a healthy mix of other work done elsewhere in RI such as Perry’s Mill, Castle Hill Inn & Resort, CCRI-Newport, etc the list goes on.

    This is extremely encouraging! I’m pretty optimistic about this project. Heck, if only there were a handful of “regular” apartments with full kitchens, non built-in furniture as part of their design, I would pack up my digs on the West Side for a downtown spot any day.

  63. Andrew February 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Jonathan, how many people who would live in a 250 sq. ft apt would be interested in having a full kitchen? I don’t think the med student crowd does a lot of home cooking…plus it encourages residents to spend their money on eating establishments downstairs. Published plans of the microlofts show a galley with a sink, a mini-fridge, and even something labelled “DW” (which I’m assuming is a dishwasher?).

  64. bob March 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    I went to Brown and know the area. Note that it is walking distance to the main campus and to the new medical schol in the Jewelry District–and to start ups in the Knowledge District

  65. Jef Nickerson March 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Arcade Providence website updated, includes floor plans.

  66. Liam Blank March 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    After looking at the floor plans, I actually like this plan for the Arcade. I mean, practically almost anything is better than just a vacant historical building. I mean, I’d actually want to get a microloft in the Arcade because it’s a pretty cool building and neighborhood. Now just get some really great retail on the first floor!

  67. JBouchard March 14, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Judging from the floorplans, this is pretty damn awesome. Some of the units are large enough with separate bedrooms, etc…without the need for a murphy bed. Not bad at all.

    I’d actually consider moving here, just because it’s in the Arcade, it’s downtown, and it’s newly renovated. Really cool.

  68. BicycleFace March 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    I agree. When I first head about it, the beds folding down from the wall, I thought that there is no way I would live there. But after looking at the floor plans, I’m definitely interested. I clicked on the “Contact Us” link, trying to find out more info. However the link wasn’t working. I’m looking into it…

  69. JBouchard March 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    BicycleFace;
    Click on the Contact Us tab on the upper right side of the main page. It redirects. There is a drop-down for Microloft Opportunities.

    Good Luck!

  70. Liam March 15, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I’m still a little bummed that they are changing the purpose of the building, but man I would love to live there. I think this is going to be decent.

  71. I {heart} Rhody March 16, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    I agree with Liam. I’d love to see a fully retail-occupied Arcade (preferably with mostly local commodity, since we’re wishing). This is a reasonable, if less-favorite alternative to leaving it vacant.

    If I didn’t already love my little apartment, I’d be all over one of those micros.

  72. arman April 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Hmm…this is exciting. If the crowd is right, Providence could have a new “Chelsea Hotel” on its hands.

  73. Paula Gremour April 17, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    ….apartment? dorms…??? this rots….I say a place for local artists to open shops….no living quarters there ! Please…

  74. JBouchard April 18, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    @Paula;
    No dorms.
    Just apartments.
    Retail on the first, residences on the upper floors.
    As with many historic buildings and in the recent economic climate, some buildings just need to be repurposed.
    While I am not wild about the conversion, it is the next-best-fit.
    Even just before the building closed, there were barely any retail stores on the 2nd floor. I believe the 3rd floor was mostly vacant.
    What I am excited for, is their plan for restoration of the interior. The work done in the 80s was not 100% sensitive to the original schematics. The developers have already stressed their plan to restore the first floor storefronts and to uncover the many exterior windows that are blocked up.

    You can turn to a nice success story in Asheville, North Carolina with their Grove Arcade – a wonderful shopping center built in the 1920s, similar to the Providence arcade, albeit a bit larger and ornate. Closed and shuttered, the Grove Arcade had been leased by the city to a local non-profits group that restored the structure, opened local art galleries, shops, cafes, and a market on the ground floor – and residences/offices on the upper floors.
    As far as I know, after many years, the building continues to succeed.
    Let this happen to the Providence Arcade.
    Be open to the change they are planning for this building.

  75. efm March 6, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    Does anyone else see what I see from the photo (and my memory)? Looks like the inside of a fancy correctional facility.
    Frustrating that this building never works.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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