Greater City Providence

State to pay $3.1 million to buy land for prohibited parking


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As Ted Nesi reported in his Saturday Morning Post and ProJo reports today, the State Properties Committee has agreed to spend $3.1 million acquiring several parcels on Francis Street across from the State House and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. State officials tell ProJo they would like to turn the land into a parking lot ‘available for visitors to state offices on Smith Hill and patrons of Veterans Memorial Auditorium.’ The Governor’s Director of Administration, Richard Licht, told Ted Nesi, “It may be 25 years or more before we actually put a building on it, but we’ll never get it for a lower price.”

The parcels are within the City’s D-1 zoning designation (as well as in the Capital Center District). D-1 zoning regulation list surface parking as a prohibited use except for as a carefully defined interim use (ephasis mine):

Interim surface parking may be permitted by waiver by the DRC as an interim use so long as it is either accessory to another interim use on the same lot, or to accommodate parking to serve a construction project. Said construction parking shall cease when the construction is complete. Interim Use surface parking lots shall conform to Section 502.2 E.

Why is the State spending money for land to use for a prohibited use? State government has been shrinking, why would we need more parking on Smith Hill? Isn’t there a public garage at the DOT? Isn’t there street parking? Isn’t there parking at the mall? Isn’t the State strapped for cash? Couldn’t people take the RIPTA to Smith Hill? Is there really a parking crisis up there, can people not get their business with the State done due to a lack of parking (I’ve never found that to be the case)?

This would be a fine place for more State offices, but we do not need for it to be a surface parking lot for 25 years.

Oh, and just in case you forgot what state you were in, RINPR reports that most of the parcels in question are owned by former Senate Majority Leader John Hawkins. Isn’t that convenient for the retired Senator?

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.


  • We need to organize a massive turnout at the DRC meeting to oppose this.

  • I think it would actually go to the Capital Center Commission if they could prove they have jurisdiction over the actions of the State, which I believe they have in the past.

  • I have always thought this would be a great location for an Art Museum, since its on Avenue of the Arts, but not parking so close to the mall’s garage.

  • Whatever goes there would need parking and site is not big enough unless parking goes underground. Seems like a lot of money for a constrained site next to a major highway; but currently is an eyesore for both the Capital, the Vet and Marriot Renaissance.

    2008 Study for the Capital District proposed freeing up land to the east of the capital by making the road there symmetrically mirror the road on the west side. This is a great idea and one that would provide more suitable land for Museums and other important civic buildings.

  • The fact that it needs parking is probably one of the contributing factors as to why its prospect for development is slim. This is why parking minimums are a problem in a city like Providence that was built before cars. The problem is that developers that try to design a building with less than the required parking minimums get met with resistance, hence why 44 Hospital Street has been sent back to the drawing board.

  • I think the land should be taken by eminent domain and put to use that is good for all the citizens of the state – for a building of the arts in RI – a museum, studios, etc… Paying $3.1 million to an old political hack is just more of the same old tricks. If that land was owned by anyone other than Hawkins, it would have been taken years ago.
    The fact the he owns that eyesore and left it in such shabby condition for so many years is a disgrace and a slap in the face to the Rhode Islanders he was charged to serve.

  • My quick calculation shows that this one acre could support up to 130 surface parking spaces, but that would be at an impossible efficiency, so around 100 is more likely. That comes to $31,000 per parking space, not accounting for any construction costs… so actually $36,000+ per parking space? Ouch.

  • The garage at DOT is not public. State employees have to pay to park in it. Last I checked with the Capitol Center Commission, the proposal to expand the parking lot into the lawn of the state house was dead, killed by the CCC and the state historic preservation office.

  • You’re right, I was remembering agencies up there giving directions to the garage, but actually they give directions to the surface lots only. And (ironically?) RIDOT is one of the few agencies whose directions page does not give any information on where to park, simply where the building is.

    It has been several weeks or a month since I heard word of the legislative lot, I would be happy to learn that the expansion (“improvements”) was dead. Though, my understanding is there were some drainage/run-off type issues that actually should be addressed if we’re to insist on having a public lot there.

  • As reference there are a few ways to calculate 90-degree parking spaces:

    A typical space is 8.5 ft wide x 18 ft long and the back-out/drive aisle is 24 ft
    60-foot wide modules work best for 90-degree parking layouts: (18 ft + 24 ft + 18 ft = 60 ft)

    Surface lots: 1-space (including half the back-out aisle) = 255 sq ft.
    1-acre = 43,560 sq ft / 255 sq ft = 170 spaces.

    For structured spaces within buildings 300 sq ft is typically used to allow for building columns between every three spaces.

    If they make the lot valet parking the area per car could be reduced to 200 to 240 sq ft.
    43,560 sq ft / 220 = 198 spaces ???

    The lot shape matters, which may be why Bredan came up with 130 spaces.

    If the state does buy this lot, the least they could do is construct a narrow wrapper building along Francis Street in front of the parking lot, which could be 12-foot deep that could consist or two-story townhouses rentals.

  • Whether the land provides 130 or 200 spaces, parking is a poor use of this land, and the cost seems high. Is the DOT garage often full, or is it just the avoidance of having to pay for parking that is justification for this plan?

    The amtrak parking garage is still disintegrating, right? The state should plan longer-term and consider a combined parking garage for amtrak and the state house (not on the parcel being discussed). I’d like to say they could get creative and build out over the tracks to the north of the station, but I believe their was an article on here about millions spent to bomb-proof the existing tunnel, and the added cost of that protection for new parking could be exorbitant.

  • You’d never know it from the state agencies, but there are 4 bus lines (50, 55, 56, 57) that go to the State House area, but info or schedules about that are not available there. Indeed, the Taxation Division for example, gives only driving directions on their tax form! And despite years of advocating for a bus shelter in the State House area (at RIPTA, RIDOT, DOA, with elected officials including Gov Chafee himself) I’ve made no progress and bus passengers there get drenched if it is raining.

    A 2008 legislative act mandating a study on reducing state employee commuting impact has resuted, as far as I know, in absolutely nothing done.

    One would think with commuter rail expanded to the south, one of Gov Chafee’s pet projects, his administration would show more interest in promoting transit to the State House area, but I see no sign of it, something to be remembered at the next election.

    Most transit adovcates have been narrowly focused on RIPTA funding, understandable in light of projected deficits. But if transit is to have any hope of contributing significantly to helping our economy and environment, or to restoring our core cities, it needs more passengers and this will require a more level playing field with all the subsidized parking.

    By the way, Hawkins who owns the lot is no ordinary ex-Senator, he ran the Senate in his day, set up the lottery and then headed of the lottery commission, an ultimate insider.

  • SECTION 1: Chapter 27 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Providence, entitled “The City of Providence Zoning Ordinance,”

    Section 303

    D-1 Zone
    Use Code – 64.1 – Parking Lot, Principal Use – Not Permitted

    Section 502.2 – D-1 Zone – General Regulations

    A) Uses:
    1. Residential Uses: For a building that fronts on an A Street, residential uses shall not be permitted on the ground floor within 20 feet of the A Street. Lobbies and common spaces associated with residences are permitted within this area.

    2. Parking Uses: Parking on the ground floor shall be separated from an A Street by a permitted ground-floor use having a depth of at least 20 feet from the A Street.

    3. Interim Uses:
    e. Prohibited Uses: The following shall not be considered interim uses and are prohibited in Downtown:
    i. Surface parking lots
    ii. Vehicle storage yards
    iii. Chain link and barbed wire fencing
    iv. Solid walls higher than three feet

    E) Parking:
    3. Surface Parking: Surface parking is strongly discouraged in the D-1 Zone, and shall only be permitted by waiver from the DRC as an accessory use subject to the following conditions:
    a. Accessory Use Parking Lots shall be permitted only on the same lot as a Principal Use building.
    b. On a lot with A Street frontage, Accessory Use Parking Lots shall not be permitted within 20 feet of the A Street. For areas between the parking lot and the A Street that do not contain buildings, such areas shall be landscaped and fenced as required

    Section 502.4 – Design Regulations for New Construction:

    A) Minimum Standards: The following are minimum standards for all new construction:
    1. Building Height:
    a. Buildings shall be at least three stories in height. The DRC may grant a waiver to allow a building of two stories. Building height and massing shall relate to adjacent structures. Ground floors shall be a minimum of 12 feet from floor to ceiling to enhance the pedestrian streetscape, regardless of the overall building height.

    2. Building Facades:
    a. Building facades shall be built within a build-to zone of between zero and eight feet from the street line. Such facades shall occupy this build-to zone for at least 80% of each lot frontage of the property. These provisions may be waived to create court yards, wider sidewalks, open space, and/or outdoor seating.

    A–Streets: Streets designated on the Official Overlay Zoning District Map for the Downcity District D-1 Zone. Buildings facades that front on these streets are subject to more stringent design and development regulations than building facades that front on B-Streets as detailed in this Ordinance.


    Map – Indicates that Francis Street between Avenue of the Arts and Smith Street is an A Street.

  • Could always build an office park above a multi-level parking garage. That would make sense though.

  • Not only is the Amtrak garage falling apart, but if you ever wanted to reconnect to the East Side Rail Tunnel, the Amtrak garage is directly in the way of any sensible approach to the existing tunnel portal (i.e., anything that’s not “let’s just pick the NEC up and move it back where it was originally”) and would need to go away for that to happen.

    That’s not likely going to be relevant in the immediate future, but it is something to keep in mind if and when rehabilitating that garage comes up for discussion.

    In the meantime, I would suggest that a minimum parking exemption could be sought after by adding additional parking to an existing structure (or converting a surface lot into structured parking), and leasing those spaces for use by the attendant developments. It’s not as clean an approach to solving the problem as just abolishing the parking minimums altogether – but as a stop-gap solution, I like tacking another five or ten floors onto the stateside garage at Providence Place to be leased out to Smith Hill developments a whole lot more than continuing to do the parking waiver song-and-dance.

  • I did some calculations, and found that $3.1 Million is enough to buy 15,000 new trees in the city. A 2006 report found that the city has only 25,000 street trees, total.

    The money for this one acre parcel is also enough to pay eighty three starting teachers’ salaries, or in other words to educate more than 2,100 students.

    I’d love for people to post some of their other ideas about what $3.1 Million could buy.

  • Yay! More surface parking in Providence! The time is getting closer to leave this dump.

  • DOA just put out an advertisement to have a contractor access and survey the land, so that they can start construction soon. the plan is to build a garage. parking is very tight on the hill during business hours. trying to find a space up there for lunch meetings is nightmare. the state is doing whatever they can to build this in the and most efficient and cost effective way. the good thing is, all state owned parking lots are opened to the public after hours, which means free parking for the mall and waterfire and other groovy things. lets just hope they don’t find any indian artifacts . . . any construction in PVD is good construction

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