Brown University embarks on South Street Landing, which relocates several offices through the City into one location. A $220 million redevelopment project.
As of the fall of 2009, work has ceased on the $150 million renovation to be called the Dynamo House – at least under the development of Streuver Brothers, Eccles and Rouse. The project halted during the winter of 2008-2009 as the economy started to tank and financing for large projects such as this started to buckle. In October, 2009, SBER announced that it is officially pulling out of its largest RI project, ALCo. This leaves the future of the former Heritage Harbor Museum site uncertain, especially with the roof removed, allowing the New England winters to start to east away at the otherwise solid structure of the power plant.
Previous to the proposed mixed-use development of the Dynamo House, it was going to be the site of an ambitious redevelopment called the Heritage Harbor Museum. The power plant was “sold” to the Heritage Harbor Museum in 1995 for $1 from the Narragansett Electric Company. The building was said to be worth $10 million. Late in 2001, a 1.5 million dollar exterior renovation project was completed by HH to ensure the building was weather tight and ready for interior renovations. The ceilings are 90 feet high in places, and full build-out would have floor space equivalent to the size of four football fields.
Heritage Harbor went through some trouble in 2003, when their request for a state bond failed to get enough votes to pass. Instead, the organization had to think of a restructuring in order to keep the dream of opening alive. As part of this, they have been exploring an innovative public/private partnership and multi-uses of the South Street Power Plant building through the assistance of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. SBER came forward as the for-profit development partner on the project. Their vision to create offices, a hotel, restaurants and retail would have accommodated the museum concept as well, along with extensive redevelopment of the waterfront.
The museum concept was a $59 million collaborative project of 19 nonprofit organizations, with basic decisions made by a board of directors including representation from all 19 groups. It also would have been an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, which was willing to give it access to the Smithsonian staff and collection, including the opportunity to borrow objects.
Unlike conventional museums, Heritage Harbor Museum planned to bring history to life through festivals, theater, art, interactive exhibitry, children’s play areas, and unique restaurants, museum store and galleries to tell the overall history of the region and its significance in a national context.
Now that construction seems to have permanently stalled, we are interested to see what will or will not happen to the site. The Heritage Harbor website offers no clues for the future (as of November 3rd, 2009).
The decommissioned Narragansett Electric Company’s South Street power plant on the Providence riverfront, is in the poorest census tract in Rhode Island. It is in a Federal Enterprise Community, is listed as a publicly supported project under the Rhode Island Enterprise Zone Program, is part of the City of Providence’s Consolidated Planning Strategy, has qualified for State and Federal Historic Place status, and has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a model of its Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative.
Taken from ProvPlan.org: The complex is comprised of several brick and granite-trimmed, Georgian Revival-style structures set on the east side of Eddy Street. A tall, square, brick, three-by-three-bay block (1924) is set close to Eddy Street behind an iron fence with brick piers which borders the property and a parking area to the west. To the east stands a long, rectangular block (turbine house, built 1925; boiler house, built 1917). These blocks both feature granite trim, tall, round-arch window openings with granite keystones and sills, tripartite windows above, granite stringcourses, and brick corbeling. Windows on the three-by-three-bay block have been filled in. Attached to the west is a rectangular, brick, flat-roof, four-story block (switch house). The building is more modest than the remainder of the complex and features rectangular window openings. A National Register nomination for the property is currently underway by a private consultant.
The first electric company in the city was the Rhode Island Electric Lighting Company (1882), which supplied the electric light for ten arc lamps in Market Square. Two years later, Narragansett Electric Lighting Company was formed by Marsden Perry and other Providence businessmen. The company’s first customer was the owner of a skating rink on Aborn Street. That same year the firm received a contract to produce electricity for 75 arc lamps in downtown Providence (RIHPHC 1981; Woodward 1986:174).
Lou Marinacci Jan 23 2009 I was the Superintendent for the asbestos abatement of the power house and remember that it was a major project. I'm not at all surprised that the plans to renovate have stalled. When we set out in the beginning it was a dark, cold and dangerous building. As you walked thru the structure you could feel the past and new that there was history there that only the people who were a apart of this would ever know. I have performed many projects like this and they make you remember that life is fleeting and you should cherish the time you have here.
Paul Vincent Zecchino, FL Grew up in long shadow of South Street, father of good friend worked across Point Street at Manchester St. Generating Station. Recall well dark smoke issuing forth from stacks, including large black stack atop 1925 steam house.
South St. signifigant as you could see development of electric power generation over decades. Original plant topped by eight short stacks wedded by iron filligree work. Thirty two coal fired boilers fed high and low pressure turbines of about 25 Megawatts each.
Ca. 1926, large black stack west side of plant topped four steam generators feeding two high pressure turbines of forty megawatts apiece. “Smokestack Lightning”, as tall black iron riveted stack was dubbed, ceased smoking mid-1970’s, casualty of oil shocks.
1919 section of plant, east end, continued to roll hi and lo pressure turbines. Ca. 1955, steel ’n glass futuristic structure, northeast side of complex, containing two steam generators replaced remaining 32 coal fired boilers that fed short stacks. New 65 Megawatt hi pressure “topping” turbine installed. Early concept of today’s cogeneration, new steam generators fed topping turbine, whose exhaust steam was in turn fed to existing hi and lo pressure turbines. This gave South St. its 110 Megawatt capacity from three generators.
South St. was base load station designed to run continuously, as turbines continued spinning up to three days following shut down. Starting was slow process, low pressure steam fed low pressure turbine whose electricity was fed to generator of hi pressure turbine, acting as a starting motor to get hi pressure turbine spooling up. Ingenious. Once high pressure was achieved, topping turbine was started.
About 1991 South St. decommissioned, west stack, long cold yet nonetheless dominating skyline, was taken down, classic lines and all.
1979 this writer toured South Street during summer heat. Generators screaming, boilers throbbing with hot gasses and flashing water, steam shooting at supersonic speed to turbine nirvana. 1982 visit hosted by Ed Reid. Screamingly silent South St.’s turbines dismantled for maintennance. Another visit 1985 thrilled small son and fiance.
Timeless powerful lines of plant an architectural treasure, good to know they’ll be preserved by museum. Early autumn 1968, wee hours, awoke to thundering loud roar akin to turbojet afterburner. Sound of Boeing 707 taking off in our driveway. Scurry outside into cool fall night, southwest sky rendered in two by plume of white vapor shooting skyward.
South St. had “tripped off the line”, shutting down generator. To avoid catastrophic overspeed following disconnection of generator from turbine, valves slam shut, shunting supersonic thousand pound pressure, thousand degree steam away from turbine, thru mufflers, not so silently into atmosphere, source of most dramatic nocturnal thundering.
An architectural treasure whose slow evolution from 1919 forward still conceals fascinating mysteries. Switch panels of marble, control room partitions of copper, a bygone era still accessible through frosted glass framed by industrial black steel frames.
The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.