Greater City Providence

Rendering of the Proposed Garrahy Courthouse Parking Garage

Rendering of the The seven-story 1,250-space parking garage proposed for the parking lot behind the Garrahy Courthouse along Richmond Street. Image from the Jewelry District Association.

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 it…it’s a parking garage for Oete’s Sake.

    The city needs to swiftly approve it and then get the construction firm to build it!

  • Is that corten steel on the facade? I really hope it is. I always saw it as a fitting modern substitute to brick downtown, considering its warm tone. It also seems appropriate to have that rusted tone in a city with such a storied industrial past. If it really is corten steel, it actually makes up for the dull overall design. I’d love to see more of it downtown.
    Does anybody have any links to the full presentation, so we could see more than this angle?

  • That the rendering is totally devoid of streetlife is so appropriate, the vast subsidy for the drive-everywhere culture this ugly parking structure represents effectively demolishes urban streetlife, and those who cant or won’t drive are truly left out.

  • Is everything final or is there a chance that street retail similar to Biltmore is possible?

  • In my honest opinion, off street parking should be left to only the private sector. no public sector money should be spent on parking facilities. RI’s transportation policy is subsidizing car travel while not giving a damn about people who can’t afford a car by not drastically improving our transit system. we need to drastically change our transportation policy to a policy that treats sustainable transportation as the number one priority or else we’ll continue down into a downward spiral. On another note, the Providence Planning Department is terrible at enforcing that ordinance that requires ground floor commercial space in every new garage built. All but one new garage has gotten a waiver for that ordinance. It’s ridiculous. Stop giving waivers for that ordinance Providence Planning Department.

  • As long as its not a concrete box with ridiculous random box screens like on South Street landing, then I’m all for it.

  • Agree with Gio.

    This looks Is a far more pleasing facade that the one at South a Street Landing. Get it approved and build it.

  • I had assumed that retail wad incorporated into this (as well as other amenities for a bus hub), but now that it’s been brought up, it is concerning that this rendering doesn’t really exhibit any of that. The long side seems set back a little bit, I attributed that to some sort of street level usage. I hope that’s the case on both sides.

  • The expression on your face in the accompanying picture goes perfectly with that.

  • It could be the prettiest parking garage in the world, but the fact remains that it’s a huge unnecessary parking garage stealing a huge chunk of valuable land in the main development area of the city. The lack of retail is just another kick in the teeth.

  • Keep one thing in mind…this is a government project, not a developer. So, a retail component is not in their zone of interest.

  • Goverment or no government, it’s still a parking garage – a giant, unnecessary structure taking up valuable land that could be put to so many better uses.

  • It turns out there will indeed be street-level commercial usage, so we can hopefully breathe easy.
    In regard to it being unnecessary, I mostly disagree. I think the spending is wise if it allows developers to build without having to include parking, making it more attractive to do so, and hopefully this will set the trend of separating the market for parking from other uses.
    So long as this functions well on the ground floor, I see this as an overall win, although one that could be at least a little more attractive.

  • David brings up a very good point. Centralized garage parking primarily oriented towards City and State workers on weekdays, that has the ability to be used for private events and tourism on the week nights and weekends could be a win/win. IF it eliminates the need for private sector parking surface lots and free standing private sector parking garages not included in a development project (ex. under the building).

    Rhode Islanders are obsessed with parking. So maybe its prudent to build 2 or 3 of these things as centralized parking locations so the congestion can at least be partially managed. Put one over 95 between Federal Hill/West Side and the Dunk. Put one over the train tracks near the State House. The Garrahy project would service the Jewelry District area. Now you have one on the western, northern, and southern fringe of the city. Two of which are built on land that isn’t valuable. Now we don’t have to hear anyone complain about the parking.

  • This is a curious conversation, and I’m interested about what drives the dynamics. There are clearly two camps here (not to up the ante on any division): people who want to comment on the aesthetics of the outside of the building, and people who are concerned about the overall plan of spending $80 million in public money for a parking garage in a city where (Ahem! Cough! pretty recent public attempts to add parking, and even some private ones (Cough! This is empty all the time! Cough! seem not to have panned out.

    I’m really disappointed at the notion that Rhode Island generally, or Providence specifically, would invest so much space and money into storing cars.

    I wonder what drives the thoughts of people who are okay with this? I feel strongly about this, obviously, but I’m also really curious why my apparent read of the situation is so different than some other people’s.

  • Personally I’d rather see less cars, and parking lots. But for anyone working in providence that live in the surrounding suburbs such as Johnston ,North Prov. Smithfield etc, it would mean taking a bus (No train obviously). It’s just not worth it to drive to a bus stop, take a bus, walk to work, walk back to the bus, take the bus back and drive home when you can skip a few steps and drive. It’s human nature to be convenient.

  • Human nature to be convenient. Ha. More like, human nature to delight in having everyone else pay for your convenience.

    If RIPTA’s farebox recovery is 30% and the average paid fare is $1.50 then the average bus rider enjoys a $3.50 subsidy. It’s less on bus lines that run frequently and are well used. What would you guess is the difference between what that garage will cost per user to build and maintain and what it will collect from each user? I will bet it is several times $3.50. And that is without adding in what highways like the 6-10 cost.

    Why the hell should anyone working in Providence that lives in surrounding suburbs receive a larger gift from the public to drive and park than to ride a bus?

  • It has nothing to do with subsidies in terms of the decision regarding this or any government garage.

    The fact is, as Gio states, unless the metro bus or rail system is highly convenient, suburban folks see no convenience value in a “home-drive-park-bus/train-bus//walk-work-bus/walk-bus/train-drive-home” experience. Contrast that with a “home-drive-park-drive-home” experience. An easy 7-3 win for the car.

    That is the challenge once out of the city and its very urban suburbs (e.g.- CF, Pawtucket). Until there is a critical mass scenario that makes mass transit more convenient then cars, expect parking garages to continue as a very viable alternative.

  • Personally, I don’t mind the cost of the garage, as long as it pays itself off. Government projects can be neutral. I think in order to really turn the corner in downtown, we need public garages that are low cost and we need on-street parking through meters that are higher cost. Charge $5 for 90 minutes of on-street parking, and $5 for 4 hours of garage parking — charge for the convenience and drive people into the parking structures. Effectively, you are creating a two tiered system that makes people pay for the ‘park in front of destination’ convenience. I want to see surface parking lot owners out of business, selling their land to people ready to develop it.

  • Subsidized parking is how you prevent a “critical mass scenario that makes transit more convenient than cars.”

    Unless the parking fees collected are enough to pay for the garage, the garage is not “viable.” If the garage had reasonable prospect of being financially viable the government would not have to build it.

    How will this latest increment of parking differ from all the existing parking that is never at capacity in its ability to “turn the corner in downtown?”

    Highways, parking lots and garages built to ensure that suburban drivers are not inconvenienced when they come to the city make my city a crappier place to live. On top of that, they refuse to pay to build and maintain the crap they inflict on the city.

  • You are missing the point.

    Who is going to pay for mass transit to the suburbs, in the city, and through the city? The suburbanites? Private corporations? Who? .

    Our city is not made “crappier” by cars parked in a garage that serves a court complex or to handle event parking at night. It addresses some needs and some difficult realities.

    If there were the funds to build a mass transit network across the PVD Metro, then we will be faced with the challenge of getting folks to use it to keep it running. Talk about a substantial subsidy.

    Hence the dilemma, the eternal debate, the problem.

  • “Who is going to pay for mass transit to the suburbs, in the city, and through the city? The suburbanites?”

    Now there’s a good idea!

    Who has paid for parking and highways so far?

  • I think Gio and Steve are right, as far as the convenience of suburban transit goes. And I think what they’re saying doesn’t necessarily have to be interpreted in an either/or way.

    The argument I would make (and I think Andrew and others in this thread might agree) is that it would be cheaper (and much nicer) to make those suburban bus stops accessible by bike than it would be to keep building park-and-rides or garages. In a place like Smithfield it’s just not practical to expect people to walk many places, but biking could fill that gap because the distances are okay for biking.

    The mindset that is most broken at RIDOT and in other arms of the government making decisions about transportation is that we can’t do something about the inconvenience of those stops other than connect them by car.

    We do definitely need to spend more on transit: RI spends less than 1/4 what MA spends, per capita. So we could do things to make the buses more frequent.

    But we also need to spend on making those last-mile connections attractive.

    And at the end of the day, I think it’s just true that some places aren’t well served by transit, no matter what we try to do. Some people have to drive. But there are already so many parking spots available in garages (if you push up to the top end of the thread, the link I put about James Baar is from an article I did responding to James Baar and Joe Paolino saying we should make KP an underground garage: I just took picture after picture not of parking lots but of garages, to show that the garage spots are empty). I think we have the understandable notion that we’re going to replace the ugly parking lots by putting a garage here or there to compile the cars into one location, but in practice I don’t think there’s enough demand for that.

  • Suburban/Urban travel and convenience dynamics aside – my only point is that we have an overwhelming surplus of unused parking in the city already. I just can’t see how one more shiny (rusty?) carbuncle of a single-use structure will make the situation any better or will mitigate the complaints of suburbanites.

  • James, I haven’t gotten my head around fully why people prefer to be car-driven in such an accessible city, but I agree with others that a not-so-great public transit system plays a strong role.

    I haven’t taken it recently, but in the past I wanted to support public transit so I decided to park my car in Pawtucket and take 99 Ripta bus from Downtown Pawtucket to Downcity. I quickly saw why everyone was unhappy with it: The bus would make frequent, frankly unnecessary stops along North Main Street (a desolate stretch) and in the absence of a dedicated bus lane, would hobble along, underpowered and stuck behind local traffic. This was not very considerate of people’s time. I lasted a few months trying to do this, then went back to driving directly into Providence. Those without a car weren’t so fortunate.

    For all its faults, the T has made itself indispensable to the Boston area. It’s part of the culture. Many, many people have learned to depend on it everyday. When the Silver Line (rail and bus) opened up a few years ago, it welcomed by many riders and was celebrated in the press. When has that ever happened for a bus line in Rhode Island? I’m not saying it can’t either, but it will take a government that wants a T-style transportation system and a public that will embrace it as its own. Maybe then they’ll stop building so many downtown parking garages and put them elsewhere. Based on recent changes at RIPTA, I’m hopeful.

  • I work next door at 72 Clifford Street, and it seems like adjacent lots are being prepped to be the temporary parking lots for the courthouse. It’s just a guess, but we’ll know soon.

    As a parking garage, it is more interesting to look at than the recently built J&W garage. But that rendering looks like a sand crawler. I hope I can get a droid there for not too much coin.

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