Greater City Providence

What Cheer / What Jeer 2013

[alert type=”info”]We’re running a little late this year but we’re finally ready to run down the What Cheers and What Jeers of 2013.[/alert]


WHAT CHEER: South Street Power Station (Maybe)

In 2013 we got another plan to redevelop the moribund South Street Power Station. While numerous plans for the building, which at one point was known as the Dynamo House, have come and gone, this latest plan engenders optimism as Brown University is involved now.

In January the New York Times and then The Brown Daily Herald reported on rumors of the university becoming involved in the project. Then in June Brown announced it’s plans for the building in a letter to the campus community.

Those plans include a home for the long talked about URI/RIC Nursing School, office space for Brown, and some sort of retail component in the former power station building. Brown also has a developer engaged in building a student apartment building in the neighboring parking lot along Point Street and the City is involved in plans for a parking structure across Point Street from that.

The latest news on the project comes from the ProJo just before Christmas with reports that the PRA is considering condemning the building so the project can move forward.

While this could all be looked at as another in a long line of proposals for the building, Brown’s involvement makes this proposal seem more promising. 2014 will show us if this project actually moves forward.


WHAT CHEER: Greater Kennedy Plaza

In April the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (DPPC) unveiled a vision for a revamped Kennedy Plaza. The DPPC looks to create a public/private partnership to design and construct improvements in the park and fund the continued maintenance and programming of activities.

The summer season in the plaza featured the well established weekday children’s programming, weekly beer-gardens, and daily food trucks. In August the Imagination Center was unveiled allowing for expansion of the highly successful children’s’ programming.

In December the DPPC won a grant from the Champlin Foundation to create a gateway at the corner of Burnside Park nearest to the train station and to create a pathway to allow for the reconfiguration of buses in the plaza area. 2014 should see the construction of the Gateway, the return of summer programming, and more coordination with RIPTA on bus service.

[alert type=”warning”]I am a member of the Board of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy.[/alert]


WHAT CHEER: Same-Sex Marriage

After first passing the RI General Assembly House of Representatives in January, then passing the Senate and being signed into Law by Governor Chafee, same-sex marriage became legal in Rhode Island on August 1st. In September in a small ceremony at the park outside the Hotel Providence, my partner and I were married by Mayor Taveras. What Cheer!


WHAT CHEER: Commuter Rail

There’s room for debate about what our priorities should be and what a Rhode Island state rail system should look like, but the fact that we continue to make progress and study the issue is What Cheer-worthy.

In June, Pawtucket held public hearings on their commuter rail station proposal.

Meanwhile, the State has been plugging away at a state rail plan with public hearings on it happening this month.


WHAT CHEER: Historic Tax Credits

2013 saw the return on the State Historic Tax Credits. Interest in the credits were high resulting in a lottery being held for the available funds, in August 32 of 41 applicants were awarded credits from the lottery.

Last month Providence Business News reported on the first projects moving forward with their tax credit funding.


WHAT CHEER: Park(ing) Day

In September, parklets were set-up in street spaces throughout the city as part of International Park(ing) Day. The parklets illustrate the higher uses that could be applied to our roadways.


WHAT CHEER: Bicycle Master Plan

November saw the release of the long-awaited Providence Bicycling Master Plan. While the plan received a lukewarm reception from bicycling advocates, the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission now owns what the Mayor termed, ‘a living document.’ During 2014 let’s hope the plan gets reviewed and improved.

Also, after conducting a bike-share feasibility study in 2011 , in 2013 the City identified Alta as a partner in bringing a bike-share program to Providence. Alta says they can have the preliminary bike-share system, which would cover Downtown and parts of the East Side and Federal Hill, up and running within 6-months of identifying sponsorship partners. A search for sponsors in on-going now.

[alert type=”warning”]I am a member of the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission but was not involved in drafting the Bike Plan or the Bike Share agreement.[/alert]


WHAT CHEER: The Arcade

The Arcade is re-opened and there is a good place to get whiskey!



Through most of the spring we were forced to watch small business owner Drake Patten get beat up by the Zoning process while trying to open her store Cluck! on Broadway. After being approved by the Zoning Board of Review to open her store, abutters fought her in court on a technicality and won, forcing Patten to go through the expensive Zoning process again and make onerous concessions to neighbors.

Patten could have avoided a lot of heartache and expense, and the neighborhood could have avoided a lot of unnecessary acrimony if Broadway was simply zoned properly. It is zoned as residential and office but it has become through the years (or perhaps returned through the years) a business district for the Federal Hill and West Side neighborhoods. There are a lot of residents on either side of Broadway who are well served by having business on the street and to deny that through zoning is ridiculous.

Now, Cluck! is open and the sky has not fallen. We won’t go into what the neighbors were complaining about exactly (that could be the subject of a lengthy book), but what a lot of it fell down to was parking. Not the business’ parking, the business had enough parking per Zoning, but the neighbors’ use of the formerly vacant property for their own parking, the subject of a What Jeer further down the page.


WHAT JEER: Superman Building

You guys, it is empty and that is wicked sad.

[box style=”info”]Related posts:
Jan. 30: PBN: Cornish tapped to convert Superman building to apartments
March: The Mayor spoke about the possibility of demolition
June 4: Providence Preservation Society statement regarding the Superman Building[/alert] [alert type=”warning”]The company I work for, Cornish Associates, is consulting with the building owner.[/alert]


WHAT JEER: State House Parking

Somehow, the Governor that a lot of us thought would be a breath of fresh air on the transportation front due to his record on such issues as a U.S. Senator is all about ringing the State House with surface parking lots.

We started the year talking about how the State should set an example by reforming their land use around the capitol building. A reader even sent us a Photoshopped aerial view of what unpaved State House grounds could look like.

Then in July the State Properties Committee agreed to a $3.1 million deal to buy property along Francis Street to use for surface parking, a use that is not allowed by City Zoning or Capital Center Commission regulations. And in October the State moved ahead with plans to expand an existing surface parking lot on the actual grounds of the State House.


WHAT JEER: Apponaug Circulator

In another example of Governor Chafee falling short with his reputation as a transit advocate he insisted on backing a highway project, the Apponaug Circulator, for a federal TIGER grant while calling the Providence Streetcar project, “not ready to go.” In June we outlined for the Governor why the Apponaug Circulator project was ‘not ready to go.’


WHAT JEER: Parking

I think this is what has taken me so long to write this post. I outlined the post and had ‘Parking’ here at the bottom, but where to start? It is a cancer on our city and society, we have a mental illness we can’t seem to recover from.

Remember this come for the parking, stay for the parking video? We can’t even launch a tourism campaign without worrying about parking.

Then there’s the 195 Commission who are in a total panic all the time about where people are going to park!?!??!? Hey guys, why don’t we worry a second about actually attracting any people to begin with. If those people are all like, ‘hey, where can we park?’ it shouldn’t be too much effort to suss that out then. But no, the 195 Commission wants to be all, ‘come for the parking, stay for the parking, y’all.’ Sigh.

And the State is all like ‘ZOMG! we have to study this problem!!!!’ But they’re not studying the problem. They’re not studying where and how we need parking, and how it should be regulated and how it should integrate into a larger transportation system; they’re studying ‘should we have a garage here (probably, yes).’

I still don’t know what to say about this Jeer, I just know we need to calm down a second and wrap our minds around some rationality here. Has anyone ever not been able to find a parking space? Is there someone out there in their car stuck circling the city for years, like Charlie on the MTA, forever trapped, unable to find parking?

[alert type=”info”]So there’s our What Cheers and What Jeers for 2013, what would you cheer or jeer for last year and what are you hoping we’ll be What Cheering about in 2014?[/alert]

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.


  • Such a great summary of the year in Providence. DPPC has been doing such a great job at revitalizing the Kennedy Plaza area. As for parking, it seems there are many in leadership now who are clueless about the changes in commuting habits but want to make sure there are enough contracts available for their “friends”.

  • I’ve been contemplating the Apponaug Circulator for a while, and specifically, the accusation that backing that boondoggle of a project represents a continuance of prioritizing automobile-oriented suburban development over urban development.

    The fact of the matter is that, while Jef and others have done a great job of pointing out how awful the Circulator is for non-vehicular uses, they also didn’t really touch on the fact that the Circulator is similarly awful for vehicular purposes as well – roundabouts do not actually improve vehicle throughput over well-coordinated signalization, aren’t any safer for bicycles or pedestrians than a signalized intersection that includes pedestrian protections (which modern roundabouts, by definition, do not and cannot have), cannot appropriately be designed to allow for the fast and efficient movement of emergency response vehicles (through pre-emption) or buses, (through signal prioritization), and for all of these reasons as well as others, I’m quite comfortable declaring the Circulator to actually be a net loss for drivers. The only real beneficiaries of the project are the construction firms who will be responsible for building it today, and the construction firms responsible for replacing it ten years from now.

    The point I want to make is this: the Circulator is a bad project, that’s beyond question. However, it doesn’t represent a prioritization of automobile over place (realigning the 95/4 and/or 95/295 interchanges would have done that), it doesn’t represent a prioritization of the suburbs over the city (upgrading Route 1 between Westerly and Route 4 to freeway standards would have done that), and it doesn’t represent prioritizing vehicle traffic over all other road users (eliminating the two signalized crossings on Route 4 would have done that).

    What the Circulator actually represents is a dangerous attitude by those responsible for it that we can just keep pouring concrete to solve all of our problems – including those problems that we’ve created for ourselves through earlier ‘solutions.’ It represents a willingness to authorize projects whose life expectancies can be measured in terms of years when our limited funding demands we prioritize projects that will last for decades, and it represents a disturbing willingness to rely on other people’s homework and follow trends that other people have set (specifically, the resurgence of ’roundabouts’ as supposed good road design). We should be opposing it on those grounds, not perpetuating a city-versus-suburb narrative where none exists.

  • One other thing I wanted to point out about the Circulator that I don’t think has really been discussed all that much is the fact that the project area is bounded on one end by the Northeast Corridor – and, as far as I know, the old Apponaug Station building is there as well.

    A much better Apponaug Circulator project would have provisioned for a modernized Apponaug Station and the extra two tracks that will be coming through there eventually, if not actually come attached to an Apponaug Station project itself.

    It would have also laid the groundwork for a proper bus network through Warwick – east/west travel is still logistically challenging and quite likely hampering the potential success of the 29 bus.

  • The problem with rotaries is that no one knows how to use them. People think “I have the right of way” both when entering and circling the rotary, when that’s not the case at all. If people knew how to use them, they’d actually be better for many intersections than proper signaling (though RI doesn’t seem to understand good signaling either). But this is all besides the point.

    I got into a nice little argument over parking with my brother (URI grad, grew up and lives in suburban CT, comes to Providence to visit friends and hit up bars/clubs). He doesn’t seem to understand the whole “there’s no such thing as free parking” thing (he got sad when he got ticketed for parking overnight on a small street on the East Side saying that guests should be allowed 2 nights of parking overnight before they’re ticketed). Anyway… the whole parking thing really irks me. I’ve never not found a place to park downtown. And to top it off… I’ve rarely had to park in a lot or a parking garage and pay more than what I’m charged at a meter. I don’t go downtown on a regular basis (at least not when you have to pay the meter), but I’ve gone enough that I rarely pay more than the meter (where I usually overpay just to be safe). I can’t believe there are people who think we need more parking downtown (especially around the State House). And the 195 land needs parking?!?! What about all the lots right next to the 195 land?

    Great list as always!

  • Glad to see that the Power Station / Dynamo house building will be preserved; however the very sad reality is that Brown now owns all of the critical parcels abutting the waterfront. This is a death knell for the Providence Waterfront as a vital, 24/7, public, civic space for tourism, culture and commerce. This is a far cry from Bill Warren’s “Old Harbor Plan” which was far too modest in its massing and a 180 from the long held position that these parcels should be reserved for hotels, residential and retail. Imagine Waterplace Park bounded by a Medical School a Nursing School and a Continuing Education building. Sad, sad day for Providence.

  • A “Cheer” for the bicycle master plan?!

    I give it a Jeer. What a nothingburger. I wonder what it cost. Most of it is cut-and-paste as if a schoolkid at the last minute had to pad 6 pages of actual work into a 30 page term paper.

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