Grant’s Block

also known as the former Traveller’s Aid

A conglomeration of possibly six 1-3 story structures bounded by Westminster, Union, and Weybosset Streets razed in 2005 for a proposed parking garage.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

These structures came down in late 2005 to make way for a proposed parking and retail hub for the new Downcity under the development of Cornish Associates. They were a mix of several buildings with a former WT Grant’s department store as one anchor, plus a Dunkin’ Donuts, Traveller’s Aid, and a former bar called Mama’s Metro Cafe. There was not much opposition to the demolition. RISD had just moved into the nearby Fletcher building, and so, additional downtown parking was thought to be needed. With more residential comes more parking needs, the thought goes.

#Current Events

The parking structure has yet to be built, 15 years later (2020). The surface parking lot gets heavy use, but the need for 450 parking spots in this location has not materialized. In fact, in the past few years concepts like the micro-lofts at the Arcade have shown that additional housing in a dense city with public transport options can be built without additional parking. New projects in the Jewelry District also show this to be possible.

In very recent years, the last remaining building on this block, the Roger Williams Building, has been converted to residential with a new addition by Cornish Associated and Union Studio Architects. The project is known as the Trayne Building and has been undertaken in conjunction with a renovation of the Lapham Building next door.

#In the News

Developer Changing Face Of Downcity

by Gregory Smith
Providence Journal | December 4, 2003 (abridged)

Developer Arnold A. “Buff” Chace and two of his relatives are preparing to clear the way to build a parking garage at the current location of Travelers Aid Society of Rhode Island. The 450-car garage would primarily serve a mini-community of residents and small commercial enterprises that Chace is nurturing in an effort to reinvent what used to be the city’s downtown shopping district as a mixed-use neighborhood.

Although the reinvention features the preservation and reuse of mostly vacant 19th-century mercantile buildings, five unremarkable structures would have to be razed to make way for the long-planned garage. Two new buildings would serve as bookends to the garage and would house ground-floor retail and up to 30 apartments or condominiums. Chace estimates the overall project would cost $25 million to $30 million and, because the garage would also serve the general public, he and his partners are looking for government assistance to pay for it.

As Chace sees it, they are building the city’s infrastructure. “We’d prefer not to have to build it,” he commented. “The City of Providence hasn’t been building structured parking” to serve downtown.

He is in partnership with his first cousin, Malcolm “Kim” Chace, Malcolm Chace’s wife Elizabeth, and Cambridge, Mass., developer Robert Kuehn for different parts of his campaign to remake Downcity. Kuehn is a member of the board of advisers for the National Trust for Historical Preservation.

Arnold Chace and Cornish Associates has rehabilitated or is rehabilitating a slew of old buildings to create about 225 apartments and condominiums and 47,900 square feet of retail and office space: The Smith Building on Fulton Street; the Alice Building at Westminster and Union Streets; the Burgess and Burgess Heirs Buildings and the O’Gorman Building on Westminster; the Wilkinson Building, sometimes called the Lerner building for the store that used to occupy it, at Westminster and Eddy Streets; and an agglomeration of five buildings called, in shorthand, the Peerless/Low Buildings, on Westminster.

The Peerless/Low project has attracted particular attention because the owner of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, a popular nightclub, had to be persuaded to leave his space in the former Peerless department store because the noise and vibration from his concerts would disturb the residents that Chace intends to bring in. Lupo’s relocated to the Strand Theater two blocks away.

Integral to the revival of Downcity, according to municipal plans, is the relocation of Travelers Aid from its current location at 177-199 Union St. in a former W.T. Grant’s department store, to the former Intown YMCA building across Route 95 at 160 Broad St. To rid Downcity of the social-service agency’s occasionally troublemaking clientele, civic leaders and city officials prevailed on Travelers Aid to move. As part of a bargain with the city and the business community, Travelers Aid will get larger and better accommodations. But Travelers Aid encountered financial and construction problems renovating its new home, delaying Chace’s garage project by at least a year.

The Chaces have a purchase and sale agreement to buy the current Travelers Aid building for $1.1 million. The sale will close as soon as Travelers Aid can move into its new home, according to Nolan. Last year the Chaces spent $3,475,000 to acquire most of the rest of the block. Other than the Travelers Aid building, the structures to be razed used to house a Dunkin’ Donuts and a bar called Mama’s Metro Cafe, on the Weybosset Street side, and currently house Craftland, a temporary Christmas store, and Two Brothers Beauty Supply on the Westminster Street side.

The developers will have to work around the Roger Williams Building, on the corner of Westminster and Clemence Streets, which houses New Image apparel shop and offices. That structure has historical merit and a future as a fine professional office building, according to owner Stanley Weiss, and he declined to sell.

As for the retail component of the garage project, Chace envisions a restaurant or cafe on the Westminster Street side because there is a wide sidewalk for outdoor seating and it faces south, for more sunny days. On the Weybosset Street side, he figures neighborhood conveniences such as a florist or dry cleaner and a specialty store with a Providence flavor would be likely possibilities.