Among the many items on the this week’s City Plan Commission agenda are items 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8 all related to a proposed parking deck on Cedar Street on Federal Hill.
This proposal is by the Omni Group, who also proposed, and were approved for a 6-story office building and parking structure at the corner of Cedar and Bradford Streets. As you’ll see here, the previous proposal is included in these plans.
If you look at the CPC agenda, you’ll see that Omni Group is requesting some zoning revisions, which aren’t really an issue as far as I can see, bringing Downtown zoning over to Federal Hill is fine in my opinion. The highway is a false barrier between Federal Hill and Downtown. What they also seek however is the abandonment of a portion of Bond Street, and most of the remaining portions of Cedar Street. This, I’m not feeling.
So first, one this we talked about when assessing the 50 Cedar Street proposal was the idea that a garage entrance on Cedar Street pretty much kills that street for the next 50-100 years. Certainly we have a major amount of development do to over the next several decades before streets like Cedar Street become “A” streets, but if we line streets with parking garages, they’ll never have a chance to support retail or other uses other than parking. This proposal makes all over Cedar Street a wall of parking garage, killing the streetwall for a generation (after demos resulting in surface lots have already killed the street for the current generation.
But like I said, it may well be a generation before Providence is built out to the extent that Cedar Street becomes a viable “A” street, fine. The life of a parking deck such as the one proposed is probably also a generation. So just as Providence reaches the critical mass to support higher uses on Cedar Street, this parking deck will be at the point where it either needs a major rehab or needs to be torn down and replaced.
The bigger issues is that the Omni Group is seeking to privatize Cedar Street for this period, and completely remove a portion of Bond Street, effectively forever (it is unlikely that in a generation when we re-assess this situation that Bond Street would come back).
As you can see from the renderings above, Bond Street would be truncated at Jones Street to become an entrance from Atwells to the upper level of this parking deck. Another entrance to the upper level (as well as the exit) would exist at Brayton Street.
If I’m interpreting these plans correctly, Cedar Street would become one way westbound and would be privatized at least from Bradford Street to Brayton Street. The renderings show a gate on Cedar Street at Brayton, indicating that Cedar would be used as the entrance and exit for the lower level of the garage (and presumably for the proposed garage at 50 Cedar Street.
Now, maybe abandoning city streets to private interests to use for parking is a new thing that I’m not entirely hip to yet, after all, the Mayor seems to be all about it. I however am not, and neither should the Mayor be. For one, Cedar Street has parking meters on it.
Is the City ready to give up this parking meter revenue? Is the City planning to charge Omni for the loss of revenue, how many years of lost revenue? And, the public uses these streets. We drive on them, walk on them, and park on them (well, Bond is only one lane wide so no one parks on it). Basically, this creates a massive super block on the back of Federal Hill controlled by Omni Group.
And we haven’t even got into how doubling their parking capacity is going to impact the neighborhood as far as traffic and air quality (water run off shouldn’t be impacted as the site is already a paved surface lot).
So, Greater City: Providence’s recommendation to the CPC? Just say “no.” Tell Omni to go away and come back with a proposal that uses only their property and does not seek to take streets and sidewalks owned by the City. Encourage Omni to consider a three level parking structure on a smaller portion of the land, allowing for future development of the remaining portion with a real building at a later date. Also, mandate environmental remediation to make up for the air quality and water run-off impact of this parking on the people who live in the neighborhood. Mandate bioswales, mature tree planting, alternate energy production for electricity used on site, etc.
Also, there is nothing in the information I’ve received about this project, but Omni should be required to make the parking a neighborhood amenity by allowing it to be used at night for restaurants on Federal Hill. Having a large parking structure on the Hill will reduce our need for multiple small parking lots, allowing those lots to be put back into circulation for development.