Greater City Providence

DRC to consider demolition of Weybosset Street “110” facade

Photo by Jef Nickerson

Next Monday, November 9th, the Downcity Design Review Committee will be considering a request by 110 Providence Owner, LLC to demolition the remaining facade at 35 Weybosset Street. The facade was to be incorporated into the proposed OneTen Westminster Street residential tower (which when proposed, nearly 5 years ago, would have been the tallest building in Rhode Island). At one point, the proposal morphed into a W Hotel on the site, as recently as last year, W was still saying they were coming to Providence. And while their website still list Providence as a 2010 location, the lack of activity, the continued sourness of the economy, and the fact that the request for the facade removal is now before us, makes that seem less and less likely.

So what do we think about this? Simple, we don’t want to see this facade come down. The agreement that allowed for the demolition of the building stipulated that the facade would be incorporated into a new building. The plans for the new building fell through, but the facade should remain as long as physically possible to allow for it’s incorporation into a future building.

I’ll admit, I’m no structural engineer, so I don’t know what the state of this structure is, but I do know there is precedent for facades standing for more than a few years.

Rome photo (cc) Walter Parenteau

If you oppose the demolition of this building facade, you should attend Monday’s DRC meeting.

DRC Agenda:


MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2009 – 4:45 PM
Department of Planning and Development, 4th Floor Auditorium
400 Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903

  • Call to Order
  • Roll Call
  • Approval of Meeting Minutes of September 14, 2009

1. DRC Application No. 09.15, 35 Weybosset Street (Public Hearing)
The subject of the hearing will be an application by 110 Providence Owner, LLC requesting demolition of the partial structure located at 35 Weybosset Street.


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.


  • Yeah, but they agreed to the stipulations when they were allowed to knock down the rest of the structure. Once you’ve made your bed, you sleep in it.

  • Which reminds me:

    The Tarros are going before the building inspector this Thursday (11/5) at 3:00 pm. They filed an appeal to the July decision ordering them to stabilize the Grove Street School. I don’t actually know if these meetings are open to the public, but my guess is that they are, and that they’ve scheduled a public meeting during the day so that no one shows up. However, since I certainly plan to show up if I can. Anyone else who can possibly show up definitely should.

  • How can you park cars with that silly facade in the way – I mean, hello! (kidding)

    It so sad that the economy went down the tubes when it did. 110 and Dynamo House were 2 key projects in the continued re-shaping of the city.

  • For this property and with that particular façade|let them demolish it. This may be a controversial position, but that façade is a fake. As I understand it, that façade was built in the 1950s; not in the 18th or 19th centuries.

    The tragedy was the demolition of the five story late 19th century loft building that was immediately east of the current façade on Weybosset and the bank building structure with granite columns on Westminster, both of which are now gone. Those would have been worth fighting for tooth and nail. This one is not. The Downcity Design Review Committee dropped the ball on that when they approved current site plan.

    It should be encouraged or at least not actively opposed, if demolishing the façade will help the current owners sell the property so that so can be developed, instead of leaving languishing for decades as an empty lot. The only prohibition on the site should be to forbid the use of the property as a “temporary” surface parking lot.

  • Peter – I just spoke with Planning. Unfortunately, a surface parking lot is the exact usage that is being proposed by the developer.

  • Peter, I feel where you’re coming from a bit. I am concerned, even though I pointed to Rome, that this can’t stand forever. I hate what the supports do to Weybosset, it will never be a functioning street with those there. I worry what happens if a truck hits one of those supports, does the whole facade come crumbling down.

    If an engineer says that it is sound for the foreseeable future, and the crossings at the pedestrian detour can be made better, then I’m happy to let it stand as long as it takes.

    The developer entered into an agreement with the city that the facade would be incorporated into a new building. If that means they can’t sell it, or can’t sell it at a price they want, then that is their problem, they entered into this agreement, they have to live with it.

    If the current developer or someone else came to the city with a plan to develop the lot, but needed the facade to come down to do so, I would be willing to entertain their proposal. A parking lot is not something I would entertain however.

  • A surface lot is a nonconforming use in the Downcity District. The focus going forward needs to be developing these lots to the highest and best use. Approving the façade demolition in order for the developer to collect parking revenue would not incentivize the developer to either build on the property or sell to another developer who would, thus committing this property to being underutilized for the foreseeable future. How long has the old Outlet been a surface lot? When was the last time a surface lot was built upon? The Downcity Diner is the only one I can recall. The historical record does not breed optimism.

    If the developer has money to spend to demolish the façade, pave the lot, plant trees, install street trees and furniture, and paint parking spot lines, then the developer should be able to afford moving the supports to the interior of the façade and maintaining the structural integrity of the façade while financing for a building is secured or a potential buyer for the property is found. DRC should reject this proposal.

  • The Outlet isn’t a surface lot. It’s the Johnson and Wales campus on Weybosset Street. The Surface lot is the old Grant’s block.

  • Jef, The real problem, kept façade or not, is that the developer is requesting a “temporary” surface parking lot. They’re probably submitting the application based on an economic hardship due to the current economy. Since surface parking is a permitted use downtown they would have every right to request it. If the Downcity Design Review Committee or other city body rejected their request it could be the basis of a “takings” claim.

    If the developer is going through the expense of submitting an application for a surface lot and paying to demolish the façade and construct a parking lot, the long-term reality will be that we’ll all be looking at that parking lot for many years to come. Providence has a long history of this. Even in Manhattan “temporary” parking lots can linger around for a decade or two. In Providence it’s usually longer.

    The question that needs to be posed to the city is “are surface parking lots any longer a legitimate land use anywhere Downtown?”

  • Oh…You’re right. Sorry. Not to get OT, but, for some reason, I thought the lot at the northeast corner of Weybosset and Empire Streets was where The Outlet Company used to be.

  • I thought that there were standards in the zoning text for the Downcity district that covered surface parking lots that included buffers and landscaping. If the text has been changed regarding surface parking lots making them non-conforming use in the Downcity district, I stand corrected, although the developer may still be able to claim a hardship.

  • Jef – In response to your concern regarding the façade, the structural steel cage and the reopening of the Weybosset Street sidewalk, engineers should review the soundness of the assembly. The Jersey barriers now in place, if more formalized might address the truck hitting the structure issue. If the structure is deemed safe, why wouldn’t it be possible to reopen the sidewalk on the north side of Weybosset under and through the cage? This is routine at constructions sites using scaffolding, which is much lighter structure and more temporary. It’s possible that the current developers don’t want any liability with the façade and the steel cage. I can’t imagine that they would really gain that many more parking spots with the façade demolished. If the sidewalk was reopened between the façade and cage, it could be illuminated as a kind of street sculpture.

  • Mea culpa #2. The zoning ordinance allows for surface lots on B streets Downcity, and lots are allowed on A streets as long as the use is transitional and meets certain criteria. I usually check my facts before I post. Clearly I need to do a better job. It hurts credibility. Sorry.

  • That building should never have come down in the first place. It was a fine and beautiful building. To take it down, the developer had to agree to use the facades in the new building, but oops! accident!, the main facade fell down. Now he asks to demolish the remaining facade for a parking lot. What is wrong with a city that keeps rewarding intolerable behavior? Just say no!

  • In the grand scheme of things, Toby is right, as is everyone else who fights for preservation in Providence. This is precisely why. Those who had been around long enough before the boom could see this coming, and were powerless to stop it. Now, everyone wishes they had.

    Learn something from this.

  • PBN has a report on this today (where they used my photo 🙂 ). They spoke with Thom Deller who says he expects the DRC to approve the demolition for parking, but require landscaping. They can have parking for 2 years, then ask for a 1 year extension, then…

    Off the top of my head, I believe there is a requirement for a 4(ish) foot landscape buffer (i.e. a dirt strip with some bark mulch and half dead shrubs).

    The Smith-Mathewson Building faced the same issue when they were requesting to park cars where the Downcity Diner used to be. It was suggested they build a temporary liner building instead of the landscape strip (which needed a less than minimum height variance since it was below 3 floors on an ‘A’ Street). They’ve run with the idea, and added a floor to the building. It would be a nice good will measure to have the developer here leave the facade, or even try to build a temporary building behind it or something in exchange for parking approval.

  • “The developer entered into an agreement with the city that the facade would be incorporated into a new building. If that means they can’t sell it, or can’t sell it at a price they want, then that is their problem, they entered into this agreement, they have to live with it.”

    “a surface parking lot is the exact usage that is being proposed by the developer.”

    OK guys, lets compromise with or ‘asphalt prairie’ developers… Lay the facade down real gently, then shellac it. It will be the classiest historical surface parking lot in the city.

  • No Parking. I mean, come on. How many times are we going to let this happen? if they manage to convince someone that the facade is no longer safe, then they should be required to make that lot into a pocket park until they can sell it, or develop it.

    I hope people will remember all these buildings lost, all the surface parking “gained” when it comes time to elect a new mayor. I certainly would be asking any candidates what their position on this would be because it is all tied to economic development and I think we all agree that “temporary parking lots” is not any kind of economic engine whatsoever.

  • Does anyone in city government even acknowledge that a problem exists? Why are Blue Cross, Gtech, and the Westin able to build their developments with no issues, but others fall through at the expense of Downcity’s streetscape. Maybe there is a problem with the analysis done to vet developers. Is the permitting process problematic which is causing developments to delay and fall through? I don’t know. Just asking. Maybe I’m asking too much, but some public pronouncement that the city is doing something to prevent these teardowns that lead to surface parking instead of buildings from happening again would give comfort to those who fear the worst when a developer asks for a demolition permit.

  • Why does the city reward developers in these cases? Why can’t they just say “too f’n bad” and make the developers sit on it or sell it as is or come forward with a new plan that doesn’t involve the facade? At this point that’s really all that’s needed. Instead the idiots in the city reward the developers by allowing them to make money off the site while it sits there as a “temporary” (I’ll believe it when I see it) parking lot.

  • Aaron hits the nail on the head and I agree completely. I’ve just notified Picture This and Downcity Diner about the application for demolition and left a message with the Mayor’s office (401-421-7740) stating my opposition. If anyone else would like to call the Mayor or recommend a more effective step to take, I’d appreciate it.

  • I’m also e-mailing Tom Deller ( and hope others will do the same.

  • Christopher Ise ( is the person at Planning who is the staff member for the DRC. I would send public comment to him and ask that he make the Committee members aware of your comment. Better yet, if you can, come the the DRC meeting on Monday (details in the post) to testify in person.

    Also, there’s a Mayor’s race coming up, we could make this a campaign issue. You could let John Lombardi know your feelings on this issue

    This parcel may be in Lombardi’s council district as well, I’m not sure about that though.

  • It’s time to implement a policy of no demolition permits issued to Downcity developments until financing for these developments have been closed upon and construction permits issued. Jen has been calling for this for years and she’s right. When the same thing happens 3 times (Grant’s Block, Sierra Suites, 110 Westminster) in 4 years, there needs to be recognition that a problem with the process exists and a change needs to be implemented. And to me, tens of thousands of square feet of surface lots where buildings once stood in a Downtown census tract that should be generating a high volume of economic activity is a problem.

  • while the situation for tearing it down was different, the fact is that the public safety memorial parking lot, and the old gulf station parking lot were created due to flaws in the “system,” although it certainly isn’t a flaw if you’re a developer, huh?

  • and along with this demolition comes providence’s newest surface parking lot

    i take it those preserved murals from this building are long gone too. so much for the agreement for demolition, completely disregarded.

  • I have to agree with others that losing the facade itself is not the big deal. The big deal is 1) That once again the city doesn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce its own deals, and 2) that the developer is giving up on this spot. Can we please stop with the idea that these are temporary lots? They are temporary I guess until JWU has a 60,000 enrollment and needs the space, but that’s about it. This will be a surface lot until cars are no longer the individual mode of transport of choice, just like the rest of them.

    I don’t have a real problem with taking a shot at 110. You have to gamble once in a while. The problem is taking that gamble along with the public safety gamble along with the fruit and produce gamble along with……..In other words if one of these things happen in a vacuum, you chalk it up to some bad luck/timing. When so many happen, you have to chalk it up to something else.

  • The zoning regulations with their limited understanding of how development and developers work is what needs to be addressed and changed. The construction of any new surface parking lots (temporary or permanent) should be banned from all downtown districts.

    Why would any developer build a temporary “minimum” building, when for a small fraction of the cost can pave, stripe and landscape a fresh parking lot. The rate of return on investment for a parking lot is far greater than any other use. Besides, with a parking lot there’s relatively no demolition cost when the market is right to use the site build.

    With all the hype around Providence’s renaissance and walk-ability, it’s strange how similar city’s CBD compares to Houston’s. With additional commuter rail service and planned downtown streetcar system the excuse that the only way for the city to succeed is to provide parking is misguided and dated.

  • Peter said: The question that needs to be posed to the city is “are surface parking lots any longer a legitimate land use anywhere Downtown?”

    We’re planning on doing a Q&A for the mayoral candidates (and maybe the Governor candidates and some others). Sometime after the first of the year we’ll solicit questions from our readers and submit them to the candidates.

    Note: We will not be making any endorsements.

  • Thom, if you really have the city’s interests at heart, you know that allowing them to having a “temporary” surface lot is not the right answer. The city needs to grow a pair and stand up to these developers who think they can just come in here and tear down a building with “plans” to build something “great” that we never see and then just turn to parking.

    In my opinion, it’s high time we clean up city hall of everyone, including the council and mayor and start fresh with people who don’t have ties to the “old Providence”.

  • Jim, I’m sure that Thom really does have the city’s interests at heart. Unfortunately, it isn’t always as simple as growing a pair and saying no. There are legal and political issues that have to be balanced. That’s why it’s essential to identify what’s wrong with the regulations and then make changes.

    Most developers around the country are now broke and the banks aren’t lending. It’s an easy shot for everyone to point at developer’s greed. Development is after all about making money. What it’s also about is building the city (all cities). What’s often overlooked is the real risk that the developers take in the attempt to realize their dreams of building the city.

    Many developers have invested millions into sites that now can’t be developed. The Blue Chip folks are probably in a similar position with the 110 site and likely other sites. Think about buying the existing buildings (yes the ones that are now gone). What did they pay for them? What did they pay in architecture fees? How many times did the design review committee or other city officials make them revise their design? How much are land-use attorneys, traffic consultants, landscape architects, and mechanical and structural engineers? They paid these fees and are now left holding the bag and yes were unlucky enough to be caught at the end of the market.

    Does Thom force a developer to go to court to claim a hardship by refusing to work with them? No, he and many in the city government, I would imagine are trying to help them. No one complained when Blue Chip paid for a Waterfire, a ways back. Now we’re all complaining about their proposed parking lot and façade demolition. The 110 site will likely become a parking lot. What we need to do is prevent this from happening to other sites and set a dialogue and assist all parties to find mechanism to make the city grow in a health way.

  • I’m sorry Peter, but the city doesn’t exist to help developers who bite off more than they can chew get out of financial jams.

    The only interests a “temporary parking lot” serves is a developer’s, and that’s not enough impetus to continue to erode the urban fabric of the city.

    The idea that we just need to get through “this one” and then we can put regulations in place is just crap and we all know it.

    We have been through this nonsense entirely too many times in the past few years to know that this most certainly will not be the last of these buildings to be lost forever to the sea of asphalt and your suggestion that the city should somehow take pity on these poor souls who gambled money they didn’t even have is offensive at best.

  • They paid these fees and are now left holding the bag and yes were unlucky enough to be caught at the end of the market.

    actually they were lucky. they would have been unlucky if they had spent the $100+ million building the tower during the boom years only to finish the project up now, selling very few units and losing the whole investment to the lender.

  • I’m sorry Jen, but if a new law is written that prohibits any and all new surface parking lots, temporary or permanent, throughout downtown then something positive will have come from this discussion.

    If the developer doesn’t get their parking lot it really doesn’t matter. The urban fabric has already been eroded. The developer could simply ignore the city and all the rest of us and leave the site vacant for decades. How might that improve the eroded urban fabric?

    We might succeed at blocking their temporary use and preserving a 1950s neoclassical facade, but if that is all that is achieved it would be a failure. What is needed is new unambiguous land-use laws that would prevent the kind of situation from reoccurring and that could serve to be the basis for re-building the city.

  • Peter – I agree as far as what type of legislation/ordinance passage is needed. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a discussion of this nature has arisen. Multiple demolition permits have been approved for the past few years now resulting in surface lots. Yet no such legislative revisions have occured.


    Maybe the public pressure on the city is not large enough to make an impact. Until this happens, I am not optimistic that any tougher ordinances can be enacted. The passion of this group to make a positive change is inspiring and encouraging. However, we need our group to grow.

  • I think the public pressure is the crux of the problem. If you sit someone down and explain to them why it is not good to have parking lots all over town, they start to get it. But most people have this perception that there is a parking crisis in Providence and we are in desperate need of parking, so these ‘temporary’ lots are often seen as good by the general populace.

  • A public dialogue on the land-use surface parking issue could help the public to understand the severity and damaging effects of the surface lot problem.

    Instead of temporary or permanent surface lots, how about garage structures? The city could incentivize garages over surface lots through real estate taxes or abatements, which could also help the city’s revenues. Are surface parking lots taxed at the same rate a vacant land?

    The public perception of “not enough parking” could be alleviated, if a garage alternative were proposed. That fear should eventually die down as the downtown transit system improves, but unfortunately won’t for several years until the proposed Transit2020 streetcar system is constructed or a similar bus substitute is provided.

  • No one is willing to pony up the $ for parking garages, not when surface parking is being given away. Peter, i do understand your positions, and your optimism that a public dialogue could actually change thinking, but we’ve had those. Several times. The city is wrapping up almost three years of public dialogue. It doesn’t mean anything because frankly only the same folks come out to “dialogue” and the city generally ignores what they say as a result.

    A temporary parking lot still requires a use change and that is where it can be denied. parking is not an inalienable right in Providence, though who would know that, based on decisions of the last 10 years?

  • I opened my store “Picture This” three years ago to join in the growth of downtown Providence. I moved right next door to the proposed 110 site. I suffered through some of the demolition. My walls cracked, my customers couldn’t stand the noise. Once they put up the barriers and the steel beams, people would not walk on my side of the street. I would stand in my window and watch everyone on the opposite side of the street. I since moved across the street to a larger storefront opposite the fake wall. I watch people look at the wall, snap photos and wonder! I say take the thing down…it is not doing any good for preservation, for the city, for the merchants, for the reputation of the city or anything else. It’s a hazard for traffic, the street can’t be repaved because the barriers are in the street ( they have patched the street so many times, the patches have patches. To say the very least, it is an eyesore. If you want to see downtown grow make room for it to grow.
    Six other businesses have opened in the area since I moved here, Impulse Hair, Downcity Restaurant, Hampton Inn and Cafe LaFrance, The Cookie Connection, and Copacetic Jewelry. We all have a huge investment sitting on this street. The pedestrian traffic has been reduced by hundreds of people daily just because the Arcade closed, limiting the people access to get to Weybosset to shop, eat or get to their cars.
    Again I say tear down the fake wall that really means nothing since it was built in the 1950’s, not 1791! Open up the area, parking is fine with me, God forbid should there be a place to park in downtown. There is no reason a tasteful nice park-like parking area couldn’t be put there until money is available for real development. Lets not be silly here, no developer is going to pay millions of dollars for a lot and put up a little parking lot for the long term. They are reponding to the merchants and the city to make the place look like something other than Downtown Beirut. This is not about the preservation of a historic building, this is survival if you are a business. Make room for people to crossover from Westminster to Weybosset without having to walk in the street or fall into one of the craters in the street or have to go all the way up to the CVS to cross over to Weybosset.
    I have talked with literally hundreds of people in the past 3 years, very, very few are in favor of keeping that wall the historic preservation once they find out it was a 1950’s creation.
    We have lost the Arcade, The Custom House Tap, and a half dozen or so companies, Textron is downsizing, Blue Cross has moved, so how does the downtown merchant survive if not for traffic. That traffic comes from having available parking, from allowing people access to cut across from Westminster to Weybosset. The options are clear have a fake wall and more businesses closing or lets move forward take down the wall and grow.

  • Of all people I would think your view would be different. You really think having a parking lot across from your store is going to increase your business? Think again. Yet another reason why I won’t be returning to your store. Let me guess, you would also vote Cianci back in office?

  • Sorry Michael
    You are wrong, I do not support Mr. Cianci and never have! This is not about politics.
    Perhaps you do not understand the business environment in the financial district of downtown. Ask the merchants, poll the people on the street ask them what they think of the great “non-historic” eye-sore, for the record….. I have!! I have talked to many more people than most people have, that wall is my neighbor, I’m there every weekday! If your home was across from a dilapidated building, I think you might think different.
    Sure 110 was a great plan and I would love to see ANYTHING BUT a parking lot on that site, but to hold up one wall of a building in hopes of forcing any future developer to build “only if they will design a building that will connect to that wall that really has no value or meaning” makes little sense to me. Perhaps you have more knowledge of the history than I do, but since you choose to not leave your full name, who knows. I grew up in this city, I own two stores in Providence and one in South County, pay taxes, am active in many organizations, donate to dozens of non-profits, and contribute to the community. I am sorry we do not agree, sorry you will not be returning to my store and I’ll be very sorry if they leave this monstrosity standing for who knows for how long before the economy turns around enough for someone to build on this lot.
    Michael, this is one you and I disagree on. That happens, not all people agree on everything. I guess we agree to disagree.

  • David: I fear that a parking lot would not be available to your customers anyway. It would probably be leased out to one of the downcity companies or restaurants for valet overflow or employee parking. it won’t be a municipal parking lot, made to help the small businesses who made an investment in the area. 🙁

  • An empty lot, a parking lot, and a 50+ year-old façade supported by a steel gage in the street.

    Since any proposed temporary parking lot will be subject to a public review and as it has been pointed out is not as-of-right, rather than just assuming that a proposed parking lot on the site would be leased only by neighboring offices, perhaps conditions could be placed on an approval, if it were allowed.

    Items could include a required pedestrian pass-through with special paving and curbing to insure the right-of way won’t be parked over. Another could require that 25-50% of the parking spaces shall be open to the public for short-term parking and maybe a few bike parking spots too. If the façade is not demolished then the applicant could be required to pour a more permanent concrete barrier at the base of the steel cage to take up less of the street cart-way and be required to open a covered right-of-way on the sidewalk between the steel cage/barrier assembly and the façade for 24-hour pedestrian access. Perhaps the pedestrian right-of-way could connect through the entrance door of the old façade to the covered sidewalk. As I mentioned earlier, the steel cage and façade could be lit as a sculptural element, but also for safety. The applicant could be required to repave the crumbling portion of Weybosset Street in front of their site from curb to opposite curb. After all they would be hiring an asphalt company to pave the lot anyway.

    As a consolation to the applicant for this additional expense they could be offered the option to add multi-level stackers to increase capacity, if there was demand for it.

    There’s an opportunity here that could help everyone, the developer, the neighborhood businesses, the Financial District offices and the Downtown community as a whole. If the temporary parking lot proposal is killed, we could all be staring at the lone dumpster through chain-link for a long time to come.

  • David-Thank you for your comments. Strong local businesses like yours that care about strengthening Downcity are a key part of the solution to changing the flawed development process that created the holes in Downcity’s streetscape.

    I appreciate the fact that we are proposing solutions. My position is that DRC can reject the demolition proposal with the provision that the developer and the city can work together on a solution that improves pedestrian access. The two parties would then work together on finding a solution to build on the site. I’m no real estate expert, but with Steuver Brothers now backing out of ALCO, maybe there is financing that the city can provide Blue Chip to assist with their Downcity site.

    Maybe the steel supports can be moved to the interior of the façade. That way they are not impacting the street or sidewalk. The developer then needs to secure the site. Erect a wall which creates somewhat of a streetscape. Maybe have artists paint a mural on it. Yes, it will involve additional expense, but so will paying for demolition work and parking lot construction.

    The key is to incentivize the developer to either sell to a willing developer or secure financing for a development that they would personally build. There are already tens of thousands of on or off-street parking spaces in Downcity. 90 additional spaces will not have a material impact. Also, based on the history of the Public Safety Building temporary lot, the likelihood of the temporary surface parking provision being enforced is not high. Two years have passed since this lot was constructed, and to my knowledge, no progress on this property being developed has been made.

    A mixed-use building that is an asset to the public is the highest and best use of this site, not a surface lot.

  • Taxation hasn’t been discussed here as a strategy for addressing surface lots, and if changes to zoning regulations have stalled, taxes might be an alternate approach to the problem. Specifically, a per-car tax could be implemented by the city which only applies to surface lots, or the city property tax could be increased just for these lots. Either strategy, if feasible, would provide the city with more $, reduce incentive to demolish, and encourage parking garages over surface lots.

    Another approach would be to eminent domain a current temporary lot and build a municipal city-run garage. This might undercut the private market and pressure the lot owners to develop something better, and would also raise $ for the city. Though I generally think eminent domain should be avoided if possible, but several of these lots are the result of manipulation of the current regulations to the detriment of public good; the public safety complex in particular should never have left public ownership.

    I am just throwing out ideas and am not sure of the legal challenges to making either of these work.

  • Taxation becomes a state issue–any time the city sets up any kind of revenue-getting or tax increase, it has to be vetted through the General Assembly, which, as you can imagine, is kind of a black hole a lot of the time.

    The city has not often (ever?) taken a position on requiring anything other than the minimum (curbing, striping?) for these temporary parking lots. My feeling has it has always been an all or nothing, except there’s never nothing.

    While the creative ideas are encouraging, my experience (now dated, to be sure) has been that if you don’t out and out protest something then all you get is the lowest common denominator. If you go into a negotiation already half way there, you lose everything. Defeatist, I am well aware, but the sad truth of my 20+ years in PVD. I wish it was different.

  • David:
    Thank you for your comment. I certainly see your position and welcome your perspective on this issue.

    On the issue of the parking lot, I have to agree with Jen. It seems highly unlikely that any parking at this location would be available to your customers and will more likely function like the other parking lots near your store on Pine Street, leased monthly to office workers in the area, and perhaps open at night at inflated rates for events. There are precious few lots in the city that are open for shoppers/diners and others at an hourly or half-hourly rate. Looking around the city, really Cornish’s Grant’s Lot is pretty much the only exception. And that is only because Cornish owns most of the retail buildings on Westminster and has an interest in ensuring that shoppers have parking.

    I guess you wouldn’t know it from my original post, because it was rather knee-jerk in regards to losing another building (or part of a building in this case), but the parking is what I’m really bothered about. Like I said, I don’t see that it will help you or any of the other retailers in the area directly, and I see no sign that it will indeed be temporary. I’ve never seen a “temporary lot” transition to another use.

    That said, if we are going to see parking here, which painfully seems almost inevitable, I would encourage you to attend the DRC meeting tomorrow and plead the case that the lot, if approved, should have spaces available for short term parking, and also that the lot should have cross block pedestrian access as Peter suggested above. And that access needs to be more than a little paved path, it should be a nice wide walkway with landscaping, some signage indicating where the path goes (i.e. “Weybosset Shops”) would be nice too.

    I like Peter’s thinking of opening back up the sidewalk and uplighting the facade. Redoing the footings to allow for fixing the street. But, I don’t think that is possible with the current steel:

    35 Weybosset Street

    As you can see, the cross-bracing here doesn’t really give enough head room to allow pedestrians through here.

    I really feel DRC should send them away to do some research though. I think the Smith-Mathewson Building down the street gives a good model of what can be done. I like where Aaron is going with moving the steel supports to the other side of the facade so we can re-open the sidewalk and fix the street. But if we’re moving steel, let’s go all the way. At Smith-Mathewson they are building a temporary building that is engineered in such a way that it can be incorporated into a larger building on the site later. The engineering allows them to add floors and fill the rest of the lot when demand and the economy allow for it. I’d like to see some thought go into something similar here. Build something, even one floor with the rest of the facade being false, engineered in such a way that it can be expanded up and back at a later date (and maintain the existing facade in the interim).

    Yes, this facade is not centuries old, but regardless, it is beautiful and appropriate to the street and without it, we’d have yet another block in the city with a giant hole in it.

    35 Weybosset Street

    This bend in Weybosset Street is among the most beautiful and complete streetscapes in the city. Losing this facade and having surface parking in it’s place will rip out the street’s heart.

    If, if, the developer can come up with a plan to save the facade, re-open the sidewalk, and ideally, bring some use back to this structure (in the form of a temporary retail structure tucked in behind it), then I am begrudgingly open to allowing for parking on the Westminster side, but also with conditions. Hire a landscape architect to create a lush landscape buffer on the Westminster side (MAINTAIN that landscaping), provide for a healthy number of short term parking spaces, create a permeable parking surface such as the one at Grant’s Lot, and provide a well built, well maintained, well landscaped pedestrian link through the block.

    In the meantime, since it seems the city in the end, still has no teeth to do anything other than approve parking here, the city MUST change that. The more parking lots the city allows, the less unique and attractive this city becomes, and the less incentive people have to live, work, and play here. I encourage everyone to harangue their city councilors on this issue and make the Mayor aware that the built environment of the city will be a campaign issue next year.

  • Why do we have a DRC if all they do is rubber stamp these proposals? Sorry, but I think they do have teeth. They can continue the proposal and charge that the city and developer vet some financials on alternative developments. Or, if they do approve the “temporary” surface parking, they can negotiate harsh penalties if this property does not revert back to a buildable lot. Developers, by right, cannot build permanent parking lots on “A” streets Downcity. Please hold them accountable.

    Oh, and by the way, the new Providence comprehensive plan is clear when it comes to surface parking. See page 63, Objective M6, paragraph G:

    “Encourage the elimination of surface parking lots and discourage the creation of new surface parking lots as they are a detriment to the city’s economic future and its built environment.”

    Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  • Whatever is approved in the new Comprehensive Plan is only a guide. The law is in the Zoning Ordinance, which has to be updated to conform to the Comprehensive Plan.

    If the DRC is rubber stamping, they’re doing it because it’s easier. If they are pressured, they have the power to impose conditions.

  • Here is what the city’s home rule charter says about the comprehensive plan. With all due respect, seems to me that it is more than just a guide. Paragraph one is clear that no project can be implemented if it does not conform to the Comprehensive Plan.

    (d) The effect of the comprehensive plan.

    (1) No public or private improvement or project or subdivision or
    zoning ordinance shall be initiated or adopted unless it
    conforms to and implements the comprehensive plan and
    elements thereof.

    (2) No capital improvement shall be funded unless that
    improvement is consistent with the comprehensive plan.

    (3) All development and project plans and proposals and all
    privately developed projects and developments which require
    approval by the city council or by other city boards,
    commissions or committees shall be submitted by the
    appropriate aforementioned public agency to the director of
    the department of planning and urban development for
    determination as to compliance with the comprehensive plan
    and its elements. All appeals from the director’s decisions
    shall be submitted to the city plan commission for a
    determination as to compliance with the comprehensive plan.

  • No apology necessary. Just trying to point out all the tools at our disposal. It’s also frustrating to invest so much in a document like the revised comp plan that should be strengthening the traditional and unique urban, architectural character of Providence only to bear witness to another example of developments that detract from its character.

  • I received an email that has been going around town today on this issue, so I hope to see good turnout at DRC this afternoon.

    Also, Brown Daily Herald should have an article tomorrow about the issues surrounding this proposal.

  • Glad to see this is getting some attention that hopefully results in a positive outcome. It shows how important GC:PVD is to the community.

  • I will not be able to attend the meeting.

    Please consider the following, even given that the DRC has the power to reject an application, if an application is denied, the applicant could plead a hardship in court and have a decision reversed. With the current economic condition that’s a possibility.

    If it looks as if a temporary parking might be approved try to get as many conditions added to the approval (i.e. through-site pedestrian walkway, landscaping, façade and sidewalk access on Weybosset). The relocation of the steel cage to the inside of the lot might be an impractical demand.

    The temporary parking lot issue might be better fought politically and legislatively, rather than by this individual case, though the issue should clearly be vocalized at the meeting that the city is systematically being demolished for parking lots and losing its historic architectural legacy.

    Good luck.

  • Thanks, Jef. Reading between the lines of the Providence Journal article by Philip Marcelo reveals some additional items in my opinion:

    Marcelo quotes Providence Preservation Society: “It’s another reminder that the city desperately needs better controls on development involving renovation or alteration of existing structure”. “Another” being the key word. Why after all the previous demos is this fact not publicly recognized by the city?

    Marcelo quotes Jeremiah O’Connor: “But O’Connor, in a letter last month to the design review committee, said that the façade “is and always has been an impediment to development.”” So why did he agree to this in the first place if it was an impediment?

    Connor also is quoted: “He argued that the façade must come down because prolonged exposure to the elements has badly deteriorated it.” Where is the building inspector report corroborating this?

    Providence Preservation Society: “The preservation society acknowledges that the façade is of “limited” historical or architectural significance and that the opportunity to better preserve the façade is “long gone.”” Again, is there a building inspector’s report that supports this?

    Final quote from O’Connor which says a lot in my opinion: “O’Connor, in his letter to the city, says he is committed to increasing landscaping and installing amenities and improvements, such as park benches, that would make the temporary parking lot more palatable.” But not committed to building on the site.

    This article says a lot. But there is so much more that needs to be written here. Why is the city in constant reaction mode on Downcity development? The comp plan says surface lots should be discouraged. It would be nice for the city to follow through in accordance with it.

  • Part of the issue at the city level could well be that Downtown doesn’t have one city councilor, it has 3. Wards 11, 12, and 13 cover parts of Downtown. Councilman Lombardi has been working closely lately with the DNA, but he seems to be more of a West Side councilor. Councilwoman Young seems more tied to South Providence than Downcity/Jewelry District (at least from my limited observation). And Hassett’s Ward 12 covers Capital Center, but he is moreso a Smith Hill representative.

    There have been proposals to reconfigure the city council, less Wards, add some at-large… but no movement has been made on those proposals. I don’t know when the Wards were last apportioned, but certainly there are many more Downtown residents than there were at that time.

    If Downtown had a Councilor which was not split between other areas, or if we had at-large councilors, there would be more attention paid within the city council perhaps.

    Of course that does not excuse the issue that a healthy Downtown is vital to the entire city and should have attention paid to it by all councilors, not just the ones who have part of it in their larger Ward. And it does not excuse a lack of attention to these issues from the Mayor’s office.

  • I never thought of the split representation being a issue, Jef, but your right that Downcity being split 3 ways could play a part.

    Some other points I have on the Providence Journal article. O’Connor says the façade is an impediment to development. As evidenced by the the Downcity streetscape, surface parking is in fact a larger impediment to development. If the city thinks that doing O’Connor will be more apt to build on the site if the “impediment” is removed, I think they are sorely mistaken.

    Thom Deller is quoted in the article: “”I’d love to see it used, but I’m concerned about the length of time it would be out there and deteriorating before something can be built”” Isn’t it the responsibility of the developer to ensure that his property does not deteriorate?

  • So I am just back from the DRC meeting. I did not take detailed notes, so whatever I write here is off the top of my head, anyone who attended me please correct me where I am wrong, or add to what I overlook.

    The issue at hand was the demolition only, the parking lot was not on the agenda, but it was part of the discussion tonight. The DRC moved to table this application and pick it back up at future meeting (perhaps as early as next month). The DRC instructed the Applicant to meet with Planning staff to come up with alternatives to save the facade. The Applicant agreed to do so but made it clear they have financial constraints and make no promises that they will in the end be able to afford any alternatives reached.

    4 or 5ish people spoke from the retailer perspective and their concerns are real and vital. The lack of pedestrian access past the facade is hurting retailers (coupled with the loss of foot traffic generated by the Arcade and the downturn in the economy in general). The condition of the Weybosset roadway is also a serious concern. The current jersey barrier set makes resurfacing of the street difficult at best. Planning staff pointed out that the city wants to fix Weybosset, and a final solution on the facade is needed before they can proceed. Other concerns were that the street is very dark and at least feels dangerous and desolate. It was pointed out that removing the facade is not the only option to remedy the lighting issues on the street (in fact the facade could be lit and be the solution to that issue).

    I personally do not want to see the facade saved at the expense of the retailers concerns. I feel confident that the facade can remain and that the retailers concerns can be remedied.

    The majority (I won’t give a solid number because of my lack of note taking) of public comment was in support of saving the facade. The testimony of the public (on both sides) was very elegant and intelligent, it was heartening to see such civil and intelligent discussion of the issues at hand. It was also nice that so many members of the public referenced this site in their testimony. 🙂

    The DRC members were certainly fully in favor of saving the facade and were not willing to let it go lightly. The DRC told the developer that they had failed to make a cogent case that their request for demolition met the requirements outlined in their application (expect a stronger case to be made next time if they are still pushing for demolition). DRC suggested moving the supports to the back or re-engineering the existing supports to allow for headroom for pedestrians to move through it.

    The extent of my testimony consisted of not ruling on the demo without also considering future use. According to Planning staff, the parking lot will come back to DRC for review, so it is my belief, that they should be reviewed together. This gives DRC more leeway in instructing the Applicant insofar as what they want to see done with the facade.

    So where we stand now is that the Applicant will meet with Planning staff (including an engineer) to determine what can be done to maintain the facade and address the issues on the street (sidewalks, lighting, street condition…) and return to DRC. I think it comes down to how much that costs, can the Applicant afford it, will the Applicant be willing to pay that price or will they insist on pushing through the demo.

    There is the ability for the Applicant to go to the building inspector and have the structure deemed a public danger and request permission to demolish, which the building inspector does not have to grant, even if it is deemed a public hazard, the inspector can order the owner to repair the structure to remove the public hazard. Though the history of that outcome is not good.

    OK, I’m tired and have to eat!

  • Aaron said:
    Isn’t it the responsibility of the developer to ensure that his property does not deteriorate?

    That was the DRC’s understanding as well.

    Oh, and you were quoted in testimony Aaron. 🙂

  • I will never understand why the DRC (and other boards) can’t consider the end use when thinking about a demo. The idea that they aren’t related is kind of crazy, although I suppose it is about the law. The law says that you have to do it in stages, but there should be some kind of “what is your plan if you take this building down” in the law somewhere. They are not even remotely unrelated.

    Good work, everyone. Maybe someone is finally hearing us? 🙂

  • If the façade is to be persevered, there needs to be an analysis, preferably an independent one, that would compare the costs for:

    1. Demolition of the façade and steel support cage
    2. Disposing of the façade debris and steel
    3. Stabilization of the façade (if deemed necessary)
    4. Cost to engineer and install 5 transfer beams over the sidewalk level along with cutting out the 5 obstructing angle braces
    5. Pouring a concrete barrier at the base of the steel structure
    6. Installation of temporary light fixtures over the sidewalk within the cage (5 – 23w or 28w compact fluorescents would probably be more than enough)

  • Anyone know why the city cannot seize the property by eminent domain given the recent supreme court case? Seems that the public interest and the violation of the agreement trumps the developer’s property rights. As I recall the case allows governments to seize properties and turn them over to other private parties as long as the result is for the greater public good.

    This is a practice I don’t agree in principle. However, bad actors should be punished and we don’t seem to have many other legal tools at our disposal.

    The space could be a nice little pocket park or open marketplace given that the damage has been done.

  • At the meeting last night, one of the people that spoke runs a business on Weybosset St and said, among other valid points, that there isn’t enough parking. I would have to disagree.

    If he is unhappy with the availability of the many parking lots or garages, he should take that matter up with them. However, to insist another surface lot will solve his problems, I suggest the following:

  • I can’t help but wonder what recourse the businesses like Picture This could have. I mean, would they have a case to sue for loss of income because of this developer? There just has to be a way for developers to be held accountable for the bad things that happen to everyone when they back out, or screw up…

  • Oh and the city seems to have an aversion to eminent domain–I have been trying to get them to take Grove Street School (before they started with the illegal demo)and the city wouldn’t really entertain the possibility. I do not know what it is, although I do know that it can open the city up to some insane legal action as well as it costing money up front. Certainly a few years ago there would have been a lot of private interest in redeveloping some of Providence’s buildings, but the city opted to allow them to be turned down and turned into parking lots instead.

  • Unfortunately, the developer could go to court a claim a hardship. This happens rather routinely in New York, when developers will actually have zoning on a particular site changed or reinterpreted, because they made a bad choice or expected an outcome based on what was permitted, but that couldn’t happen. The city is probably aware of this as a possibility, which may be why they’re acting timidly or at least trying to give the developer the benefit of the doubt.

  • The irony, of course, is during the providence “boom” developers were declaring hardships so it is hard to give anyone the benefit of doubt, personally. When did this O’Connor company take over this project? I mean, did they really think they’d build something there? Or did they buy the property with the intent of just sitting on it until the economy turned around? If that’s the case, that is not hardship. That’s just playing chicken with the city and based on past experiences, the city always blinks first.

  • Jeremiah W. O’Connor, Jr. is the Managing Partner of O’Connor Capital Partners. It might be a coincidence but Jeremiah O’Connor, III was the Development Director of BlueChip Properties, LLC.

  • Ooooh, great catch! If that is coincidental, it’s quite unusual. In the much more likely instance that it isn’t coincidental, this adds a new level of corporate sleeze to the whole thing.

  • Maybe, but assuming that they are related, it also could be that O’Connor Jr. has bailed out O’Connor III for making an unwise or unlucky choice and O’Connor Jr. is left holding an investment that isn’t worth as much as what was previously assumed.

  • Or it could be a way to move liability around without it actually landing on any one of them…? I wonder if they owe money around town…

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