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Herbert WEISS

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Interviewed February 6, 2004
by J

Herb Weiss
Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer
City of Pawtucket

Gregg Anderson
Cristina di Chiera
Erik Gould
Kathleen Griffin
Elizabeth Keithline
Scott Lapham
Rafael Lyons
Julie Manso and Carl Dunn
the Men of Letters
Rag and Bone Bindery
Howie Snieder
Herb Weiss
Cliff Wood
May Yao

Keeping good things happening in Pawtucket
When I met Mr Weiss, my first feeling was one of exuberance. Herb is a powerful personality whose excitement is infectious... you just can't help but be excited about the projects he is working on. Herb is officially the Economic and Cultural Affairs officer for the City of Pawtucket, but those who know him realize he is much more than that title may suggest.

Herb is the type of guy you want to have on your side in government. The arts community is lucky to have him. He takes what the mayor says and really acts on it, showing potential businesses around himself on a moment’s notice, giving them the low down on the area and the building they might be looking for. From the moment someone expresses interest in moving their studio or business to Pawtucket, he gives out all the info they need and then some, on buildings to rent in or buildings available for purchase, as well as what tax incentives, city grants, or state preservation grants might be available to them.

He and the City know what kind of interest the arts can bring, but they are careful to distance themselves from the age-old cycle of artists-move-in, businesses-follow, artists-get-priced-out. “We don’t want another Soho,” Herb says. “We want a place where people can come to, make their living, and stay for a long time. We know we need to approach this in a sustainable way, or in twenty years, we’ll be trying to tackle the same problems all over again.”

And people are starting to take notice. One editorial opinion in the Providence Journal (Monday, February 16, 2004) said of the City and Herb Weiss:

“…Few would have considered Pawtucket a likely candidate for revitalization, let alone arts meccahood. But the city now has a robust arts-and-entertainment district and an annual film festival. It played host to last year’s Convergence sculpture festival. The new Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theater has relocated from Providence. A growing number of mills have been rehabbed with lofts affordable to artists, including some who have also relocated from the state capital – whose own arts bureaucracy is being revamped.

“The most important decision made for artists by Mayor Doyle, we would guess, has been to hire Herbert Weiss to coordinate the city’s arts programs. Mr. Weiss has been a dynamo at creating and carrying out Mr. Doyle’s arts policy. He operates at a high level, thinking up new and better ways to make Pawtucket attractive to artists and art patrons; but he also operates at ground level, taking visiting artists around and trying to persuade them to move to Pawtucket… Both [the mayor and Mr Weiss] have worked wonders for Pawtucket’s artists and art patrons...”

We are very excited by some of the developments in Pawtucket, and are hopeful that they will continue their plan to attract affordable and mixed-rate developments instead of only looking for high-end rents to revitalize the city.

More than 70 mill properties and complexes, housing manufacturing firms, offices, life/work lofts and artist studios are located with the City. Pawtucket’s growing artist community was accelerated in 1999 when the City’s Arts & Entertainment District came into being, encompassing 60 streets and 23 mill sites. While the City’s arts policy initiative was economically driven, it had a preservation goal of saving used and underutilized historic buildings throughout the City’s struggling downtown. Many of these properties were once vacant, but now are being renovated by artists and creative sector companies. Here are some of them:

  • The Nathansons, Morris and Phyllis, first brought new life to the former Rhode Island Cardboard Company in 1986 by transforming the 25,000 sf of space into 13 live/work spaces and studios. Blackstone Studios, at 163 Exchange Street, was the first legal live/work loft sites in the City.
  • Just behind Blackstone Studios, Ranne Warner, a Boston developer, is renovating the former Lebanon Mills site into live/work spaces, called Riverfront Lofts. The $15 million 110,000 sf mill rehabilitation project will create 60 live/work style condos.
  • Across the street, The Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre has moved into the vacant annex of the Pawtucket Armory. The Pawtucket Armory Association, overseeing the rehabilitation of the historic Gothic armory will ultimately turn the site into a 40,000 sf regional performing arts center.
  • Next to the Pawtucket Armory, the John W. Little Company became the home of Mirror Image, a textile printing company. Owner Rick Roth brought 25 jobs to this 26,000 sf unused mill. Mr. Roth’s company silkscreen prints more than one million t-shirts annually, including the recent official National Football League’s Patriot Super Bowl shirts in stores everywhere.
  • Not far away, Michael Cronin of Classic Display, purchased the R.B. Gage Company mill at 80 Fountain Street to operate his sign fabrication company. Twelve artists are operating studios in 22,000 sf out of the 100,000 sf mill that originally was used to manufacture cotton yarn.
  • The Seven Stone Building Group has purchased the former Parkin Yarn mill and they plan to create 25 live/work condos in the 39,000 sf, five-story, flat roofed mill brick building at 32 Commerce Street. The historic mill property has been vacant for over 10 years after being the home of a host of manufacturers. As part of the Parkin Yarn project, the City is providing $300,000 in federal HOME funds to create six affordable units and undertaking parking and roadway improvements for this section of downtown.
  • Along with this revitalization effort, the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency (PRA) will soon purchase the former Old Colony Bank Building. PRA will then offer the property for purchase and rehabilitation. This 16,152 sf property has also been vacant for ten years.
  • Richard Kazarian, an antique dealer and designer, purchased the underutilized Elks Club on 27 Exchange Street. This 20,000 sf landmark property was specifically designed to be an Elks Club, built in a Mediterranean style. Located in the City’s Time Square, it will be turned into artist studios, restaurants, and offer artistic venues. Mr. Kazarian also purchased the 6,500 Gorman Furniture Company building at 400 Main Street. The oldest part of this structure, dating back to the 1830s, sits next to one of the oldest City fire stations.
  • Architect Joe Haskett and Kirsten Murphy, a graphic artist, recently brought new life to the 3,537 former Schaffer’s Furniture Company building at 163 Broad Street. Built in 1926, the couple purchased the property and created a live/work loft and studios.
  • Artist Scott Roop has also purchased the long-vacant former Hospital Trust Building at 216 Main Street, turning over 8,000 sf commercial bank building into artist studios.
  • Two Ton, Inc., an architectural firm formerly based in San Francisco, CA, also came to Pawtucket because of the City’s arts initiatives. The company recently purchased the 3,500 sf former motorcycle repair shop at 49/51 Montgomery Street, across the Pawtucket Post Office.
  • Central Industry Properties, LLC, a Warren-based developer, has recently purchased the 300.000 sf former American Insulated Wire complex, at 36 Freeman Street. The developers will create mixed uses for this mill. Targeting Pawtucket’s growing arts community, the first phase of this project, now called the Phillips Wire Company Lofts, will develop 28 live/work lofts and 48 studios, totaling 200,000 sf.
  • Rag and Bone Bindery creates handcrafted books at 1088 Main Street, in a 7,600 sf mill built in 1920. In addition to purchasing and rehabilitating this property, the former Providence-based company came to Pawtucket with 15 jobs.
  • 560 Mineral Spring Avenue, LLC, converted some of its 300,000 sf textile mill in the Lorraine Mills Complex at 560 Mineral Spring Avenue into space for artists. Currently 50 artists operate studios in the mill with an additional 40 studios planned for development in the next 24 months. These studios will take up approximately 100,000 sf of space in this mill.
  • The former Lorraine Mills Complex and Providence Metallizing Company at 51Fairlawn Avenue is converting some of its mill property into space for Catalyst Arts, an acclaimed Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) program, and artist studios. This month, All Children's Theatre moves their headquarters and custumes and props into this mill complex. The City of Pawtucket is in the process of trying to locate space in Pawtucket for their theatre and workshops.

Pawtucket’s Arts & Entertainment policy has brought new life to the Pawtucket’s historic downtown core and throughout the 8.9 square mile radius of the City. Over 850,000 sf of space in historic mills and commercial properties have been saved, restored and are seeing new uses as artist live/work, studios, or housing artistic venues. While many urban industrial cities are losing young adults because of reduced employment opportunities, Pawtucket’s arts development policies are bringing the creative artists and entrepreneurs back into its old mills to live or operate a business or studio.
For more information, call Herb Weiss at 401-724-5200; or e-mail to:

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