Greater City Providence

State defiantly moves ahead with surface parking


In spite of Providence Zoning rules and Capital Center rules forbidding it, the State is moving ahead with plans to expand a surface parking lot on the State House grounds and building a new surface parking lot adjacent to the State House.

ecoRI reports that the Department of Administration (DOA) has already started work on expanding the Assembly Members parking lot on the State House grounds. “Work on the two tiers of new parking to the east of the Statehouse, along Smith Street, will replace 2,000 square feet of grass with some 40 parking spaces.”

Meanwhile, as we discussed in July, the DOA has spent $3.1 million purchasing property along Francis Street next to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium for even more surface parking.

The Chairman of the Capital Center Commission, Deming Sherman is none to happy about all this. Sherman told The Providence Journal that there should be less parking around the State House, not more and that a parking garage should be built behind the DOA building.

When the State restarted the project to expand the parking lot on the State House lawn in June of this year, Sherman contended that the plan had to be submitted to the Capital Center Commission for review, the DOA claims that their authority supercedes the Capital Center Commission (which was created by the State) as well as City zoning.

The Providence Business News reported that the Commission depends on the Providence City Solicitor for legal support. When the parking lot expansion was first proposed in 2010 the City supported the Commission’s objection to the project in writing. Current City Solicitor Jeffrey Padwa “declined to oppose” the project. PBN also reports:

Edward “Ted” Sanderson, the executive director of the R.I. Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, also declined to get involved. Earlier this month Chafee appointed senior adviser Jonathan Stevens, who initially proposed the parking lot expansion, to be state preservation officer.

Go ahead, read that again, Governor Chafee appointed the guy who proposed building more surface parking on the State House lawn to be the state preservation officer. I’ll wait while you clean up your exploded brain.

Wait, also, this all might violate our 1982 agreement with the Feds giving us the money to move the railroad tracks and river and create Capital Center and… Capital Properties, the company that owns and master leases most of the property in Capital Center is wondering why they’re abiding by the agreements made like a bunch of chumps while the State contends they can do whatever they want.

So, in summary:

  • The State through the Department of Administration is moving ahead with plans to expand surface parking and claims no one can stop them.
  • The head of the Capital Center Commission thinks they actually do have the jurisdiction to stop them, but would need to go to Court to prove it and does not have enough money in their budget for a court fight.
  • Even if they were to sue, the City Solicitor is the one who would argue their case and the City Solicitor is thus far quiet on all this.
  • Governor Rotary Circle appointed as the state preservation officer a guy who thinks surface parking on the grounds of the State House is a neat idea.
  • The Feds might be all like, “we didn’t give you that money to build parking lots.”
  • Capital Properties is all like, “what the hell?”
  • And while RIPTA remains without a clear and predictable source of funding, something that Speaker Fox claimed was a priority for him last session, the Assembly is getting more parking for themselves.

What are you gonna do Mr. Speaker?

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.


  • The Providence Journal: Parking lots may void agreement Capital Properties Inc. executive says work may void agreement that boosted redevelopment

    A new wrinkle surfaced Thursday during a noontime meeting of the commission when Todd Turcotte, a Capital Properties vice president, said the state’s actions may violate a 1982 agreement that governs the district.

    Turcotte indicated that should the state move forward, its actions may void regulations and restrictions that dictate development in the district.

    “I fear what will happen to the Capital Center,” Turcotte said.

  • Yesterday, the Capitol Center Commission resolved to meet with Speaker Fox in the hope of securing an ally in state government.
    The spirit of that meeting was one of exasperation, and they need all the public support they can get to successfully challenge this project. Letters need to go out to the city solicitor, to the governor, and whoever else is in a position to do something about it.
    I walk this route often from my apartment on Smith Hill–it is a gateway to the city center and as such a very important parcel. Its use as surface parking–being so close to the State House–also deals a heavy symbolic blow to the city’s vision of a waklable, transit-oriented downtown.
    And another thing–the creation of the Capital Center District (first proposed in 1961), was a decades-long, laborious process that required balancing many conflicting interests. It was a triumph of public-private cooperation, and a triumph of the imagination on the part of the Providence Foundation, architect Bill Warner, and others. Now, to save themselves a seven-minute walk, the State House folks are pissing on all of that.

  • Sorry-to clarify: they haven’t met with Gordon Fox. I was referring to yesterday’s internal CCC meeting in that second sentence.

  • Don’t waste your time with Speaker Fox. He pays lip service to transit, but his actions display that he could care less.

  • Fox does have a history of changing stances if he hears enough about it from constituents. You will have to get volume in order to counteract the dealmaking needed to stay speaker.

  • If you want other targets for fighting this you will also want to address the Vets theater who is eying this as parking for their customers.

  • A newly appointed state Preservation Officer. Exactly what does he do? Does this hideous parking lot scheme surrounding our landmark state house demonstrate his approach to preservation? Because preservation is more than shoring up falling down buildings… it’s caretaking the state’s historic places and significant sites. Not wrecking them.

    Thank heavens he wasn’t named Commissioner of Health.

  • How many constituents are we talking about? I e-mailed the speaker over and over again regarding the O’Grady bill and got nothing. And when I did get a response, it was a boilerplate “thank you for your feedback” type of e-mail. GC:PVD has over a thousand people that view this site. We need a plan to transform their interest into activism. We need to be harsher with our state officials who don’t have the guts to tell us how they really feel about the urban core and how they would rather transform our built environment into a suburban facsimile.

  • It would be nice if one, just one member of the Providence delegation understood urban issues. Our most urban minded Assembly members are Josh Miller* and Art Handy, both of Cranston and Jay O’Grady of Lincoln/Pawtucket.

    *I think Josh got a sliver of Providence in redistricting.

  • A blatant a crude move by the members of state government that shows a complete disregard for the public trust given to them to protect our pubic monuments and historical and cultural resources. And for what – for their own comfort and convenience.


  • A parking lot is not legally permitted on The empty lot near the the vets auditorium according to the zoning code of providence. Now they are about to break the zoning code of providence by putting a travesty known as a surface lot. Providence is committed on eliminating surface lots and now the state government just thinks that just because they have more power than the city of providence means that they can break the zoning code? This must be stopped!

  • Perhaps Speaker Fox will trade prestigious reserved parking spaces for votes, like, for RIPTA funding. (Ha.)

  • They’ve appealed to Speakah Fawx for help? That guy? Oh man, the hilarity of this place….

  • Looks like the pictcha server is down. Anyhow I’ve always contended the state should contract for spaces in the mall lot. All the businesses in Capitol Center do. Why are our legislators any different that they can’t deign to walk a few hundred feet more?

    But if they really wanted to put something on that parcel to the west – build an automated parking garage. You get the highest density out of those anyhow.

  • This is interesting: “When the parking lot expansion was first proposed in 2010 the City supported the Commission’s objection to the project in writing. Current City Solicitor Jeffrey Padwa “declined to oppose” the project.”
    Does the solicitor work for the Commission or does the solicitor work independently?

  • There are so many things wrong with this.

    In 2008 the Assembly passed a law, incorporated in Section 36-6-21.1 of the RI General Laws, setting up a interagency committee to plan how to meet a goal of reducing state employee commuting miles traveled 35% by 2016. The plan was to include a transit pass in lieu of parking privileges. There was to be an annual report to the Governor on progress.

    As far as I know, in 5 years nothing has been implemented. Instead, these parking expansions. I was told state employee unions, (evidently caring nothing about Providence’s land use goals, congestion, climate change or other environmental considerations, or even saving $$ for the state economy by reducing oil $$ outflow) were opposed to any transit incentive because they thought it might somehow undermine their “free” parking. As far as I know, Ripta’s union has done nothing to change this mindset.

    When Carcieri was Governor, he vetoed 2 bills to help Ripta and presided over a 60% fare increase during his 8 years. But I expected better from Chafee, who I had thought might have tried to drum up patronage for one of his long-time projects, the commuter rail service from Warwick and south that takes riders directly to the State House area.

    Having often been drenched waiting for a bus at the state house, I’ve long advocated for a bus shelter there (perhaps in honor of Rosa Parks whom the Assembly wants to commemorate) at RIPTA Board meetings, hearings, at the TAC, and with elected officials, even meeting with Gov Chafee himself, all to no avail. RIPTA for its part has done little to market its services (4 bus lines) to the State House area. Its as if everyone wants to discourage use of transit there.

    In addition, its ironic that Ted Sanderson “declined to get involved” in the desecration of the State House lawn as I was told he is giving a hard time to installing bicycle parking hitches around the state house area as not consistent with the historic district. What hypocrisy. (There is about $30,000 remaining of a Federal grant for bike parking facilities that we are in danger of losing entirely.) He had earlier objected to the speed bump there that had made pedestrian crossig of Smith St safer. Apparently he thinks motorists need not be bothered with historic considerations, only those travelling some other way.

  • Matthew,
    The solicitor works for the Mayor. The one who wants to become Governor. What kind of campaign support do you think he would get from the legislature if he opposed or sued the state over this. Or maybe he is just thinking ahead about staff parking.

  • Very distressing. That the State’s lead preservation office would not consider the landscape that serves as a setting for the capital as integral to the value of the historical monument itself is bizarre; but then again everyone is dependent on them for finding so blatant self-interest all around.

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