Greater City Providence

Downcity Design Review Committee – May 11, 2009

Notice of Regular Meeting • Monday, May 11, 2009 • 4:45pm
Department of Planning and Development, 4th Floor Auditorium
400 Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903

Opening Session

  • Call to Order
  • Roll Call
  • Approval of Meeting Minutes: April 13, 2009

Project Review

1. DRC Application No. 09.07, 220 Weybosset Street (Providence Performing Arts Center) Proposal to construct a one-story addition on the roof of the existing onestory retail building on Richmond Street.

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2. DRC Application No. 09.08, 159 Weybosset Street (vacant lot adjacent to Smith-Mathewson Building) Proposal to construct a single story addition to the Smith-Mathewson Building at the corner of Weybosset Street and Eddy Street. The addition will have retail frontage on Weybosset Street.

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3. DRC Application No. 09.09, 225-231, 220 & 250 Westminster Street (Peerless, Burgess/O’Gorman and Alice Buildings) Proposal to install sign flags for 5 retail tenants on Westminster Street.

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4. DRC Application No. 09.10, 125-129 Canal Street/3-9 Steeple Street (commercial block) Proposal to completely restore the buildings, including storefronts, windows, masonry, roofs and construction of a new rooftop structure for elevator and elevator shaft.

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Item 2 was discussed in this thread back in January. Nice to see them perhaps moving forward with the liner building option.

Item 4 sounds exciting, let us hope they don’t find that it is a “public safety hazard” halfway through and have them apply for an emergency demo permit.

Greater City Providence

Promoting the smart urban growth of the Greater Providence region.


  • It would be a real shame to see a one-story building at 159 Weybosset. That is the heart of donwcity. I was hoping someone might come in and build a slim 10-story building, but even 3-5 would be better than a single floor building that will live there forever.

  • Of course you are right. In theory however, I beleive this is supposed to be a temporary building.

  • while better than parking lots, “temporary” buildings are usually not, and are never really sustainably built.

  • What Christine said of their last appearance at DRC was that they are putting a temporary facade on the facade exposed by the fire at the former Downcity Diner building (a facade that was not meant to be exposed). At the same time they are renovating their building in a way that would prepare it for a future building on the vacant parcel. They had proposed surface parking on the existing vacant parcel (and were approved for that temporary use). They had broached the idea of a temporary liner building for which they would need further approval, this would appear to be that.

    In this economy I am beyond shocked that they are going for forward with the temporary building. Actually, I’m shocked they are even fixing the exposed facade. Isn’t Providence development practice to let something like that fester until such time as you can get an emergency demo permit and have more parking?

    The devil is in the design of the temporary structure.

    There had been talk for a while of Cornish doing a temporary modular building at one or both ends of Grant’s Block. I’m interested to see what they do. It could be really cool or it be such crap that surface parking to the curb would be preferable.

  • I would disagree about any building being a win, but it sounds like this has a chance of being a good move, and even actually temporary. I agree with Jen that temporary buildings rarely are. I hope that the design of this one is decent. The fact that it is intended, in part, to cover up the scar from the Downcity Diner fire is good, in my mind.

  • Was there anything on Vista Della Torre (now called “ICON Tower”)? I heard they were not granted the abandonment of Federal St. (or there was some other denial from the city that has hurt the chances of the project going forward as is) and they were to appeal.

  • This city wouldn’t see that project because it isn’t downtown.

  • Supposedly there is some giant 14 page ruling that came out of Zoning on the Venereal Disease Tower. I haven’t tried to get a copy of it because I simply can’t stomach it at the moment. But I suppose I should try to get my hands on it.

  • > The devil is in the design of the temporary structure

    Not all low rise buildings in a city have to be worthless or ugly… Think of the Trinity Brewhouse… Also, isn’t Bravo’s retail building on Washington only two floors? I can’t recall right now… However, it could also look like the late Buck a Book…

    What I worry about in the longer term is the “Pawtucketization” of Providence development in the medium term. With apologies to the city to the North, what I mean with this is when hard economic times hit you get unambitious, low rise buildings, sometimes at the expense of higher rise structures… Look at old photos of Pawtucket and the streets are lined with multiple story buildings. Eventually, they fell into disrepair and were replaced by more economically feasable one or two story structures that their economy could support. This is the same reason we ended up with lower rise, low ambition buildings like the Avalon and AmEx buildings…

    Hopefully we’ll like what we see…

  • Your point about the city being able to support higher rise structures is an important one, Bret. Unfortunately, I believe that until the economic and quality of life improve, the city will have no leverage.

    Also, I believe lenders are unwilling to finance “traditional urban/compact development” because of some stigma that these projects are higher risk. On the flip-side, my response to that is lowest common demoninator development, while perceived as better that nothing, has not been beneficial to Providence in the long run. If I look at the post-war history of Providence from a development perspective, I can only come to this conclusion. Many developments, while acknowledged as not the highest and best, were accepted in the name of added property tax revenue. Yet here we are in 2009 still with a municipal budget containing structural deficits.

    The city needs to ensure that a climate for development, as well as other areas exists, that is fair and open, with rules that apply to all. In addition, improve the delivery of public works to all neighborhoods and invest in public education, so that middle class families that move to the suburbs have a reason to stay and poor performing schools improve. This may mean that some popular city projects get cut, but the city has to prioritize and analyze which are the important functions that need to be fully paid for now so that in the long-run, the ancillary programs can thrive.

    In other words, keep it honest, keep it just, and keep it simple. Maybe then, the traditional urban development that we crave will be supported. We decry the lack of it for good reason. However, it won’t happen until we deal with the root cause. That is, how to attract more people, how to attract more jobs, and how to repair the city’s infrastucture.

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