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January 10, 2011 // News on the Preservation Front

A victory for Preservation... what it means for the building, we are not sure.

At the end of 2010, a victory was won in the fight to preserve buildings representative of Providence’s industrial past. In December, the Historic District Commission (HDC) rejected an application for demolition of the industrial building known as the Atlantic Mills Company Filters House/Storehouse, at 95 Hartford Avenue. Included in the Industrial and Commercial Buildings District (ICBD), the brick building was constructed in 1899 and is part of the Atlantic Mills Company complex.

Although property owners claimed that the building is a fire hazard and would cost too much money to bring up to code, the HDC denied their application. The building is of historical and architectural significance, it retains much of its original appearance, and its stalwart interior makes it a suitable location for any number of occupants and purposes.

We will try and keep our eye on this complex, and hope that a new buyer can maintain the structure or successfully convert it. While we like to see these buildings saved, when they are saved at the expense of the efforts of the current owners, that leaves them open to demolition by neglect or a nasty “surprise” fire.

Historic Industrial Complex Up for Auction

The former Fuller Iron Works complex, located at 566 South Main Street and 40 Tockwotten, near the new I-195 access to Wickenden Street, was auctioned on December 2, 2010. Pre-auction publicity promoted the property as a redevelopment opportunity. The brick building on South Main was constructed in 1869 by the sons of Frederick Fuller, who originally established Fuller Iron Works at the Fox Point Foundry in 1839. In 1893 a glass and steel machine shop at 40 Tockwotten was added to the south side of the earlier structure. It was the first steel frame and glass machine shop in Providence; the glass walls were covered in shingles sometime before 1978. (Photos coming soon, I hope)

November 8, 2010 // Been a long time...

Some Praise

The Coolest Small Cities in America: Voting may not have turned out the way everyone would have liked this November, but at least Providence made it into GQ Fashion’s Top Ten. PVD was even described as “Wicked Cooler than Boston”.

Some Rumors

The recent HDC vote to allow the Providence Journal (Belo Corp) to tear down the Brownell & Field Co. on Harris Avenue is just another case of Demolition by Neglect. What makes it more interesting was the way the vote went down...

Sources tell me that the lawyer representing the Projo – Tom Moses – called upon members of the HDC panel who were also members of the Providence Preservation Society to recuse themselves. The arguement was that being a member of PPS, which has publically stated that the building should not be demolished on its “10 Most Endangered List“, and sitting on the panel voting on whether or not to grant a demolition permit for the property represented a conflict of interest. Due to this, the vote was severly hindered, as the motion broke a quorum. As the bylaws of the HDC state, when a quorum can not be reached, the ruling falls in favor of the party presenting – therefore, the Projo got their demolition permit.

Now, this ethical issue is still being worked out as far as we have heard it. The HDC needs to update its bylaws or make clearer what constitutes a conflict of interest. The biggest problem here is that, again, according to the bylaws of the HDC:

“The HDC, established in 1960, is a board consisting of 12 volunteer members. All are city residents with either a personal interest or professional experience in historic preservation and related fields. 10 members are appointed by the Mayor and two are City Council members.”

That language insists that the members of its board have an interest in Preservation, or possibly work in Preservation. As this is a small town, many volunteers also volunteer on other boards. It should be no surprise that volunteer members of the HDC, who are interested in preservation, may also be members of PPS. Heck, they probably volunteer on other boards as well, who might be subject to such lawyering tactics.

While this got the Projo Company what they wanted – a parking lot instead of a crumbling building that needs repair (money) – what does this really mean? It means that PPS’s freedom to make public statements about preservation puts its members ability to volunteer for other organizations in jeopardy. It means that PPS’s free speech is being attacked. It means the the individual members may not comment on the demolition of projects whether or not it pertains to their day job, as it might come before the HDC at some point. Therefore, it is an attack on the free speech of the individual board members.

That all aside, let’s examine what it means to have a real conflict of interest:

A conflict of interest occurs when individuals involved with the conduct, reporting, oversight, or review of a certain matter also have financial or other interests from which they can benefit, depending on the results of the matter.

To argue that this conflict of interest represents a financial gain for the institution in question (PPS) is a flimsy one. PPS is a non-profit and has virtually nothing to gain from the outcome of one demolition. Someone could argue that a non-profit stands to gain if they use advocacy as a platform to fund-raise, but we think that is a bit of a stretch. We suppose that if there were no buildings of historic importance left to advocate for, that PPS might cease to exist, but this is an extreme case – and frankly, a dark proposition.

At any rate, AIR think this was a pretty dirty little trick, but one which the HDC really needs to figure out to prevent it from happening again. Needless to say, none of this has made the pages of the Projo.

July 30, 2009 // Mom & Pops threatened by closure for delinquent sales tax

Not too surprising, the City and State and trying to get tough with businesses that are late on their taxes. As a business, I am late, and currently on a payment plan with the IRS as well as the state for 2007 taxes. In this economy, if you don’t plan right, you could get caught holding the ball as bills come due. The fact that the state is unwilling to negotiate with these businesses – arguably the hardest hit – and get them onto a payment plan is outrageous, and plainly a bully tactic. But to what end? If the state loses all these 1200 mom and pop businesses, then the state loses its soul, and its attraction to tourists who came to see places like the Liberty Elm, recently being filmed for a Food Network spot. Tourists don’t come to RI for our Dunkin’ Donuts or Subway sandwich shops, they come here for Flo’s Clam Shack, Aunt Carrie’s, or the Modern Diner (not to say that anyone of these mentioned are under threat of closure. But there are about 1200 small businesses that are). Read the full Projo story here.

April 16, 2009 // New Bridge through Pawtucket

The next few years are going to be hell for Pawtucket, as if it wasn’t bad enough. If you think the traffic now when you hit the border with MA was bad – or when you are about to leave RI – wait another year for the DOT to begin construction on a few new lanes of highway. Apparently, the School Street exit will become two new lanes, and will serve as the overflow lane while they demolish the old bridge and construct the new one. The DOT says it will take the next four years to complete the project. Yikes.

Most Pawtucketeers hope that at the end of all this, the City will at least have a new bridge that actually feels like a bridge. After the first few rounds of design were the typical DOT design, local business leaders stepped up and put pressure on the DOT to come up with something better. We think, with a few small caveats, that we did get something much much better from them, both when being driven over and also from surrounding angles. The big problem we had with the design was that it didn’t feel like a bridge at all, it was an invisible overpass. No one got the sense that they were passing over the Blackstone River, one of the hardest working rivers of the 20th Century.

So, what do you think? Here is the DOT site: and here is the Greater City Providence page about the new plans.

January 25, 2009 // A blast from the Recent Past

Only 8 years ago, RI was slightly on the map with a big Super Tuesday election. Comedy Central took on the comparisons... California, Rhode Island, and New York. Steve Carell in Cali, Mo Rocca in NYC, and the fabulous Steven Colbert in RI. Watch for shout-outs to Haven Brothers, Buddy, and the Broadway Gulf Station (briefly). Click here to watch.

September 27 // Time to talk some more

There’s been quite a bit of redevelopment activity going on in town these past few months, and we haven’t covered any of it. Its tough to keep up when this is supposed to be only a hobby. We have had our ear to the ground, however, and so, here are some things that have been on our mind:

  • Brown University: Interesting tidbit= The University owns 234 properties, 104 of which are homes (most of them historic in some way). There is a good list of all of them on Wikipedia.
  • Brown University: They have been B-U-S-Y. Brown’s master plan has been reworked and reworked. Their plans for what they call “The Walk” have been coming to fruitition. It’s a green path along the end of Brown Street, between Angell and Waterman. There are plans to do more work – a lot more work – between Angell, Brown, Waterman and Thayer Streets. Three houses on Angell Street are threatened by demolition or removal: 127 Angell, 129 Angell, and 135. 129 Angell Street is also the Lucien Sharpe Carriage House, which was recently Brown’s Urban Environmental Laboratory (1884). These three properties ended up on PPS’s 10 Most Endangered List this year (click here for the Wiki). Problem is, preservationists will be forced to play catch-up with the University’s actions unless they are more forthright with their master plans in the future. And it’s not just preservationists... Brown seems to think that they have carte blanche to do what they will on College Hill. Sure, they have their students and their faculty in mind. That’s great. But they don’t seem to remember that there are other people who live in the city, too. In fact, we have heard third-hand complaints from Brown faculty wondering why residents of College Hill won’t just let Brown take over Waterman Street and use it as a student thoroughfare. This kind of attitude – not malicious, more like they are living in the bubble of Brown – can’t persist if Brown and the residents of College Hill, and the rest of the City, are going to live with Brown’s inevitable expansion.
  • Irish Parlimentarians: Who would have thought that lil ole RI would play host to a bunch of Parlimentarians from Ireland who want to study preservation and economic development in New England cities? Well, on October 7th, 2008, a group of them will visit the City and meet with local officials and local poreservationists to get their take on ways to revive sea-faring mill cities while preserving their character. Let’s hope that the things this city did right will work in Ireland, and they avoid some of the pitfalls that we ran in to along the way.
  • Vista Della Torre: The Providence Zoning board approved (unanimously) a variance for a 250 foot building at the corner of Broadway and Service Road 7. For reference, the nearby senior-high-rise, Dominican Manor, is only 175 feet tall. The city Planning Department seems to think that the perimeter of downtown, and the edge of the residentail West Side, is ripe for high rise development. I guess they will get their way. Fortunately, the nearby street will not be abandoned as previously discussed, but it looks as thoughthe building was granted air rights to build over the street in some way. For more info, check the Urban Planet page.

More info will come as I have the time, so you know, like in a few months...

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