Greater City Providence

Liberty Wharf Boston

Greater Boston takes a look at Liberty Wharf. While Boston faces different challenges in developing it’s Seaport District than we will face developing the Route 195 land, it is an interesting case to look at, especially as they are ahead of us. Just as Providence is trying to attract the knowledge economy to the Jewelry District, Boston’s Mayor has dubbed the Seaport the “Innovation District.”

Liberty Wharf is the sprawling new complex at the site of Boston’s former iconic restaurant, Jimmy’s Harborside. Liberty Wharf is open, airy and modern|everything its predecessor was not. And it’s the kind of destination that developers are hoping will finally turn Boston’s Seaport District from up-and-coming to the-place-to-be. Rich McGuiness of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Temazcal executive chef Todd Hall, and former Seaport District business owner Michael Krupp join Jared.

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.


  • Like much of Boston, this looks bland. I think Providence will be more innovative than putting a few restaurants on top of each other in a dining/food-court flotilla.

  • The Seaport District is kind of a mess. It shares some of the same weaknesses as the Jewelry District but on a much bigger (and more expensive) scale. It has some interesting buildings (the ICA museum for one) but they’re all surrounded by oodles of surface parking that deprive them of any sense of place. That, plus counterintuitive road and pedestrian connections, make this one of the last places in Boston you want to walk around.

  • The Seaport District seems kind of “fake” to me. It’s a pedestrian nightmare for starters, but even the buildings just seem odd. If I was in charge of developing it, I’d want park space on the water between all the buildings and piers, but it’s all parking lots. I realize there’s a lot of industry there, but it’s also being built as an area where the city gets a TON of visitors with the convention center and and the World Trade Center. But instead of really making it friendly to visitors, it seems as though it’s being developed without a real plan or vision for the whole area.

  • Location, architecture, and urban design: underwhelming, cold, and alienating water view or not. It’s doubtful that the public will buy the Silver Line proximity. Seems more like a driving destination. Convention and event goers are usually sequestered in their activities, so it’s unclear how may might venture off to these restaurants. The Providence Piers site, if it gets developed, would be the most similar Providence location to Liberty Wharf.

    What might Liberty Wharf look line in 15 years or what might be there?

  • I think right now it is bad but I fail to see how you are going to create a sense of place if you don’t populate the empty space. You don’t get to flip a switch one day and make an entire integrated neghborhood to compete with neighborhoods that have been in existence since the 1700’s.

    The actual developed portion, bounded by Seaport Ave and Congress St., I think it actually pretty nice and would have a fine sense of “there” if it were connected. You could argue that they should have grown out from the neighborhoods they should connect to (I actually like the little neighborhood bounded by Seaport, Summer, Wharf Road, and the canal). Of course they have to get rid of the sea of parking between B st. and that neighborhood but it can’t all be done right away.

    Once the land is worth enough (same problem as Providence) for development, I’m sure there will be a garage added for the Moakley and the ICA. Right now why would you spend any money to build one?

    To me that last question is what really will be problematic for Providence. Developing the land isn’t worth enough to get rid of the empty spaces. So then the question becomes – do we focus development on filling in the empty spaces in already dense areas, or do we start filling out the bigger empty spaces. For instance, say a developer wanted to build a new 8 story building. Are we better off having it go to fill in some of the egregiously empty spots in the city core (say, for instance, the huge lot on Snow St. across from Local 121?, 110 Westminster?), should it go to trying to connect the West side to downtown (gas station lot?, public safety building?), or should it go to filling the parking lot district between Friendship and Ship sts.?

  • You can’t force development unless built by a government entity. Development is always contingent on finances, and if profitable or fulfills a need, an organization, individual, or developer may build.

    The way a city can help is to provide fair regulations and incentives. Incentives could be in the form of tax abatements or zoning bonuses. Providence has provided tax abatements and allows for some zoning bonuses for projects within the Downcity District.

    However, especially downtown, the Providence Zoning Ordinance is uneven in how it treats individual development lots. Regulations are obsessed with height limits and are inherently unfair, which creates more value for one property by allowing more building bulk yet penalizing another by allowing less.

    If the preliminary study for development of the 195 Surplus Land is not altered, the inequities between one parcel and another will become greater.

    Example: Generally throughout downtown, development parcels are permitted to build one dwelling unit per 250 square feet of land area. In the 195 area based on the study diagrams, the number of residential units is assigned and almost always less than the number of units allowed elsewhere downtown. Also the percentage of permitted units unfairly varies from parcel to parcel within the 195 Surplus Land District.

    With the exception of Capital Center, which was a master plan developed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill over 20 years ago, Providence’s zoning has been successful at inhibiting development. The rules continue to favor automotive uses. Due to the basic inequity and unresponsiveness of the regulations to market requirements, developers are compelled to ask for exceptions or variances from the DPD or the City Council.

    The rules are out of sync with market demands, though granted there isn’t much of a market now. Zoning is a topic hardly anyone wants to discuss, but it yields powerful effects on the city.

    Now is an opportunity to challenge the current zoning rules.

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