257 Thayer Street

Gilbane Development Company created a new student housing complex by razing nine historic homes

About this Property


Gilbane Development started to float the idea of razing nine houses in exchange for a new student housing complex with 100 double rooms, capable of housing over 200 students, around 2012. The East Side has long been looking for ways to ease rent pressures that come from a large student population.

The problem was the way in which the houses came to be viewed as “blighted.” An owner runs a bunch of old homes as student apartments. That owner fails to maintain the houses as they should, and/or the students themselves are hard on them and there is a perfect “I don’t respect this place because it is in rough shape so I will treat it poorly” attitude coupled with light maintenance which just continues to feed that attitude. Later, when a developer sees an opportunity in the market, it is easier to say these properties are blighted because they have been allowed to be.

That in part is what happened here. There was more to it — the City Plan Commission was too willing to allow zoning variances that ran counter to the City’s comprehensive plan and the neighborhood’s input. But largely, we see this and the razing of seven more homes on the adjacent block a few years later as classic demolition by neglect.

Design Reception

The first round of designs did not win fans. Concerned East Side residents said the building was bland and institutional-looking and was not appropriate for the neighborhood. They pushed back1, and Gilbane actually heard their complaints and responded. They hired Union Studio to redesign the structure, and we got a better building in return.

“We worked hard to break the scale down into elements that were legible at the street,” said Union Studio principal Donald Powers. “There is a section that responds to Thayer, a section that responds to Euclid, Meeting and Brook. Probably the biggest change is to open up the building with views into the courtyard.” 2

If our opinion means anything, the building, while massive for the street, is inline with its institutional brethren but provides a bridge to homier designs in the area. Its bulk and mass is institutional, coming right up to the sidewalk with no set-back, but its gable roofline, brick exterior, and openings make it feel more like a series of large houses. We could have ended up with worse.

Current Events

The project page from Gilbane Development on this building has additional details. For leasing information, visit the 257 Thayer website.

In the News

College Hill residents criticize Gilbane’s Thayer Street apartment plan

by Paul Grimaldi
Providence Journal | April 11, 2012 (abridged)

College Hill Neighborhood Association members didn’t exactly put out the welcome mat Tuesday night for Robert Gilbane, who spoke to the group about his plan for a building on Thayer Street.

Gilbane calls the project “the next level of student housing” in this 26-page presentation

Gilbane, Gilbane Development Corp. chairman, wants to build a four-story apartment building near Brown University. He envisions a $28-million building at 257 Thayer St. with 102 apartments and room for 277 residents — primarily Brown students.

Many association members said they see a “monolithic” brick block, another “intrusive” stretch of the university’s “institutional creep”. […]

Grimaldi, Paul. “College Hill residents criticize Gilbane’s Thayer Street apartment plan.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. breaking_news, 11 Apr. 2012. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1524221CD0C9C678. Accessed 29 Jan. 2022.

Stop institutional creep on College Hill

by David Brussat
Providence Journal | May 24, 2012 (abridged)

[…] The 257 Thayer St. project would fill most of the block bounded by Thayer, Meeting, Brook and Euclid streets after nine houses are demolished. Three buildings on that stretch of Thayer would be spared. All the houses are owned by Squires, a local grooming establishment that leases space to small merchants or rents rooms and apartments to Brown students.

Each house contributes to College Hill’s historical character, several with considerable panache. The block is zoned for a medium residential density, buffering the neighborhood’s wealthier and more stable streets and enclaves from Thayer’s noise and bustle.

The complex would have an underground garage and 102 luxury apartments in four stories entered through a lobby facing the corner of Thayer and Euclid. Its mishmash architecture of brick, steel and glass aspires to be edgy but still to fit in. Yawn! It would please nobody except lovers of institutional creep.

The proposal violates size, use and density guidelines in the city’s comprehensive plan. So Gilbane has applied for a zoning change - not only for the site itself and a block both north and south of it, but for the blocks to the east between Brook and Hope. Larger retail establishments, including taverns and restaurants now prohibited, would be allowed. Permitted residential density would rise by 600 percent, encouraging more huge projects and putting 20 more old houses in jeopardy. Several of College Hill’s most desirable residential streets would be stripped of their buffer zone. With the character of the neighborhood at risk, valuable historic designations could be revoked.

On March 15, the City Plan Commission endorsed the change anyway by 3 to 1. It slapped aside years of citizen participation in the comprehensive plan. If zoning can be so casually overridden, what is its point? It is now up to the City Council to defend local democracy.

Brown, while keeping an arm’s length from this project, wants more students to live closer to campus. Supporters argue that higher density promotes a “smart growth” agenda of reducing auto dependency - a fine goal, but dubious in such posh digs. If the goal were more plausible, it would still fail the “at what cost?” test by putting College Hill at risk.

If unchecked, institutional creep could someday tip College Hill into decline. Without a buffer between its quiet streets and the menace of noise, bustle and ugliness, more families might move to the suburbs, and sell their houses to owners who might break them up into apartments, lowering property values, destabilizing the neighborhood and accelerating a downward spiral that had slowed in recent decades. […]

BRUSSAT, DAVID. “COMMENTARY — Stop institutional creep on College Hill.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. projoNation, 24 May 2012, p. B7. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152421E6077E1358. Accessed 29 Jan. 2022.

  1. Grimaldi, Paul. “College Hill residents object to Thayer Street apartment plan.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. breaking_news, 20 July 2012. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152421A5CA370938. Accessed 29 Jan. 2022. 

  2. Snippet originally from a PBN article, captured from a page on Greater City Providence at http://www.gcpvd.org/2012/03/13/projo-four-story-apartment-building-proposed-near-brown-university/ on January 29, 2022