Greater City Providence


Photo by Jef Nickerson

Anyone know what is going on here at Saki’s on Weybosset Street?

Way back in 2004, the owner of Saki’s, Dionisios P. “Dennis” Sampalis, was interviewed by the Journal about his plans to expand Saki’s to a full service restaurant and create 15 apartments above the restaurant (archived Journal article and discussion at UrbanPlanet).

The oldest structure in Downcity, which houses Saki’s Pizza House on Weybosset Street, would be rehabilitated and its upper floors converted to apartments in a project sponsored by the proprietor of Saki’s.

The $3-million plan would upgrade Saki’s from an unpretentious pizzeria that caters to a sometimes raucous late-night bar crowd to what proprietor Dionisios P. “Dennis” Sampalis describes as a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant comparable to Pizzeria Uno.

According to the article preliminary approvals had been granted by DRC for the project back in 2004 and some interior demolition had been done to the upper floors. Some steps to fund the project were also underway in 2004. Since the summer of 2004 though, there has not been much evidence of any work being done, until now.

Pseudo_Work on UrbanPlanet shared some of the historical significance of the building, known as the Dyer Block:

The building is actually a little more important than just being pretty, and particularly old. It was built by John Holden Greene, a RI born architect who eventually became very influential in the first half of the 19th century. He also built at least one other federal house in what is now downtown, which was moved to Chestnut Street from Weybosset and restored in the 1960s, as well as the First Unitarian Church on Benefit Street in 1816 for the oldest unitarian congregation in the US, founded in 1720. He also built a nearly identical church (episcopal) in Savannah, GA a few years later.

The Dyer block (Saki’s) was a federal row house, and therefore important for 2 other reasons: 1) it’s one of the few remaining artifacts from a time period before downtown developed into a retail district (the custom house is another, and the downcity diner building, aka Second Universalist Church was a 3rd), and 2) it is the only row house that John Holden Greene ever built. The whole upscale trend of the city recently doesn’t always sit well with me, but I’m glad some ideas are being thrown around about how to keep this building in use, because it’s a very important one.

If anyone knows what the current plans are for the building, and what work is prompting the scaffold erection please let us know.

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.


  • Huh…I hadn’t noticed the scaffolding going up. It may just be as simple as repointing the brick. It certainly needs it, although I’m crossing my fingers that new windows are going in, because that’s the most urgent issue here.

    Whatever the holdup is/was on this property, I know that the owner got a downcity loan from the revolving fund to make this happen. I’m surprised that this place has sat idle for this long without the revolving fund knocking on his door. My guess is that somebody finally said something.

  • Indeed on the windows, there have been missing windows since at least 2004. I shudder to think what that has done to the building’s interior.

    I’m not sure when the scaffolding went up, I noticed it yesterday and I don’t think it has been too long since I’ve been down there, so it is fairly recent.

  • I forgot to mention that the project was originally set to use a $250,000 downcity loan, and state and federal historic tax credits. Now, according to the revolving fund’s website, it’s using a $500,000 loan. The owner probably dragged his feet in submitting plans for the tax credits, and got shut out of the program, so he had to reapply for another loan. That might explain all the delays. Either way, the project is listed twice (once with the old loan price and once with the new one) on the revolving fund’s list of “recent projects” on their website, so things are definitely still in motion. If anyone has information on where things stand now, it’s them.

  • ProJo confirms that this is indeed his old project reborn:

    Sampalis owns Saki’s Pizza House, a fast-food joint popular with the college and late-night crowds. The restaurant is on the first floor of the Benjamin Dyer Block, which dates to 1820.

    Sampalis owns half of the Dyer Block, and is rehabilitating the upper floors — formerly office space and a dance studio– into 15 apartments, each about 650 square feet. He also plans to upgrade the pizzeria to a more upscale Mediterranean restaurant.

    And this quote, is what I’ve been waiting to see happen:

    “The time is ripe,” says Americo Mallozzi, the project architect. “Pricing [for construction materials and labor] is better because contractors want work. And the building, it wouldn’t have made it another winter.”

    There has been a theory since we entered the recession that at some point labor and materials will reach a low level, and financing will recover enough to allow for smaller projects that were priced out of the boom to restart. This seems to be what we are seeing at Saki’s.

  • I really wish they had just left Joey Paolino out of the story. He never has anything good to say. He’s quoted in the article as saying people “don’t realize the devastation that’s going on.” Isn’t that mostly the fault of him and his associates?

  • Corey, ugh, I know! That quote should be tattooed on his forehead. Someone called him out on it in the comments section on the ProJo site.

  • Paolino’s comments were negative and “economic bomb” was excessive and alarmist, but he has a point. There will soon be a burst of vacant office space in the city. What he doesn’t point out is that Providence’s 12-17% vacancy rate remains much lower than many other cities; Stamford and New York are examples where it’s closer to or over a third. The office space that will be vacated will be useful to start-ups or expansions as the economy improves. If the largest tenant of the current Fleet building leaves, it will offer a new opportunity in a reviving economy. When the Old Stone and Hospital Trust Banks dissolved, the city didn’t fold up. Other industries and services filled in the void.

  • The thing about Paolino is that he’s a classic petty dictator. He will hype an atmosphere of crisis in order to get his way, even if it means destroying the city around him to do it.

  • Corey, Valid point. Then the best strategy is to expose him with facts, which he’ll deny, but will keep him off balance and dilute the focus.

    I never heard from you. Did anything ever develop with the 195 land small lots issue?

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