Homewood Suites by Hilton

One of a few new hotels built in the late 2010s with barely an effort made to be more than a bland off-the-highway-style, could-be-anywhere hotel.

About this Property

#Proposal

This rounded triangular parcel on the edge of Exchange Place, between the river, Union Station, and the Post Office has been a hard sell to developers for at least 10 years. As early as 2016, this particular hotel development was proposed and construction did not get vertically underway until 2018 after a long period of site prep. The land under this parcel — and under most of Exchange Place — used to be part of the river.

The hotel is eight-stories with 120 extended-stay rooms in various configurations. When it opened, it was the only extended-stay option in the city, but that was short-lived until the Residence Inn by Marriott opened up at the location of the former Fogarty Building. Why are extended-stay hotels such a big deal?

Extended-stay hotels appeal to workers in the “gig economy,” who often aren’t in one place long before moving on for a new job, said Jan Freitag, senior vice president at STR, a global hospitality-industry data and analytics company based in Hendersonville, Tennessee.1

The building was designed by D.C. architecture firm ZDS (project page) and built by the Tocci Building Corporation (project page). The developers were a joint partnership between Paolino Properties and First Bristol Corporation (press release). The hotel officially opened April 8, 2019.

#Design Reception

This is one of those times where we find ourselves agreeing with local historic-architecture stalwart David Brussat. We do not think that every building in the city needs to be brick in order for it to be beautiful, but he does have a few points when he says things like:

In just the last couple of years alone, eight major new buildings have been completed in and near downtown […] All of these large new buildings, and several more now under construction, went through the development process without a whisper of opposition. [Very few] proposed new buildings have been blocked in years. […] All of the buildings mentioned above should have been opposed anyway because they violate language in zoning and the comprehensive plan that requires new development to respect the historic character of Providence. The reasons for that protection remain sound. Providence is recognized nationwide for its beauty, and this is one of its few competitive advantages with other U.S. cities. That advantage has been eroding for decades… 2

The crux here is what does or does not “respect the historic character of Providence.” Mr. Brussat often decries that anything “modern” disrespects Providence. We disagree and state that it is more nuanced than that. This Homewood Suites is a good example. Its facing is stucco and red brick, much like the neighboring Post Office built in 1940 in an Art Deco style. But its design lacks the symmetry and balance of the Post Office building. The hotel is bland and awkward by comparison. Not only a product of its irregular parcel, it might be bland on purpose. Did they think they were designing the next Biltmore? No, not at all. Not much these days is constructed with the idea that it will be around for 100 years or more. Architecture now has very little foresight.

But this is just a few people’s opinion. Providence’s historic fabric might be eroding, yes, that is something we can continue to debate. We think that most times, when done well, modern and historic architecture can co-exist and complement each other. But too many bland structures like this and the city will erode into an “unattractive design mishmash.”

If we care, we need to show up. Go to City Plan Commission meetings (most are still virtual). Understand who is proposing what new building and where. Download the calendar PDF on that page. Keep an eye on upcoming meeting announcements. Find out how the decisions are made and support those members that speak out for the betterment of developer designs.

#In the News

New and proposed Providence hotels

by Patrick Anderson
Providence Journal | November 26, 2017 (abridged)

[…] Downtown Providence experienced a frenzy of hotel development from 2000 to 2009, when five projects, including the Renaissance Providence, Westin and Courtyard Providence, added 881 new rooms.

The recession brought that expansion to a crashing halt, with only the boutique Dean Hotel opening since then, and Providence stuck at around 2,300 rooms for nearly a decade.

That will soon change.

A WoodSpring Suites extended-stay hotel with 124 rooms is nearing completion on Corliss Street in an industrial area off Route 95 north of downtown.

First Bristol Corp. in October began construction of a 120-room Homewood Suites in the triangular lot on Exchange Street near Kennedy Plaza.

Former Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr. said last week that he plans to break ground in February on the Hotel Beatrice, a 48-room boutique redevelopment of a Westminster Street commercial building.

And although construction has been pushed back a year, the Procaccianti Group says work will commence soon on a 176-room Residence Inn on the site of the former Fogarty Building on Fountain Street. […]

Four other downtown Providence projects are further off, including a 170-room Aloft hotel planned as part of the downtown life sciences innovation center being developed by Wexford Science & Technology and CV Properties.

Industry watchers say the hotel building boom comes in response to low city vacancy rates, the resurrection of growth plans scuttled by the recession, and the ascendancy of new hotel niches, particularly extended-stay rooms and boutique properties.

Rhode Island has made hotel growth part of its economic development strategy, with four proposed hotels approved for state financial incentives from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, in addition to local municipal tax breaks.

Captured January 11, 2022 from https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/2017/11/27/up-they-go-hotels-and-residency-rates-are-steadily-climbing-in-providence/16946561007/


A dirty solution to a construction problem

by John Hill
Providence Journal | February 4, 2017 (abridged)

James J. Karam wants to build an eight-story hotel off Kennedy Plaza. But before he could do that, he had to build a 9-foot-high pile of dirt.

The site is a triangular piece of land facing Burnside Park and across Exchange Terrace from the post office building. The city has been trying for decades to get someone to build on the empty half acre, but its unusual shape and difficult geology had stymied past attempts.

The lot is oddly shaped and bordered by heavily traveled Memorial Boulevard and Steeple Street, but its biggest challenge lies underground. Over the decades, the parcel has been the odd lot out as the rest of the area around Kennedy Plaza was built up, streets were shifted and rivers moved. As work around it went on, concrete debris and other excavation materials were often put there.

[…]

Eric Zuena of ZDS, the architectural firm working on the project, said the answer was dirt-pile compression. On a conventional site he said a building could use large hydraulic machines to pound the ground into compressed submission. But Zuena said that approach would have vibrated the ground of neighboring properties, so First Bristol opted for the dirt-pile approach.

Karam said the company had engineers calculate how much the hotel will weigh and then figured out how much dirt it would take to equal that load. The total came to 9 feet, he said, so soil has been trucked in to lie there a few weeks, pressing down on the ground. The fill is being piled on the part of the property where the hotel will stand and the process is being done in thirds, with the pile being moved over after a few weeks.

Captured January 10, 2022 from https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/2017/02/04/giant-dirt-pile-will-stabilize-site-slated-for-providence-hotel/22490197007/


State aid for hotel project

by Kate Bramson
Providence Journal | May 23, 2016 (abridged)

[…] The [Rhode Island Commerce Corporation] agency’s board of directors unanimously approved [a $4.8 million] incentive for a Homewood Suites by Hilton, with 120 suites at 5 Exchange St. This is the first project to take advantage of a new state-level Tax Increment Financing program proposed last year by the Raimondo administration and approved by legislators.

Developer First Bristol Corp. of Fall River, led by president and CEO James J. Karam, will get state help paying off a $3-million bank loan, said Luke Pickett, Commerce’s managing director of investments, at an investment subcommittee meeting earlier on Monday. This state assistance would close a financial gap for the $24.5-million project and would allow the developer to get a “market-rate return” on the hotel, Pickett told the Commerce board.

Under the TIF program, the state will return to the developer a portion of taxes collected on each rented hotel room for a maximum of 20 years, to be used to pay off the principal and interest on that loan. Total payments are estimated at $4.5 million to $4.8 million, Commerce President Darin Early told the subcommittee.

At the board meeting, Karam told the directors that construction and operating costs for developing hotels in Providence are “very similar” to those in Boston: “However, your average daily room is about $170 a night, and it’s almost $300 a night in Boston, so that gap that Luke has pointed out is really created by the lower rate.”

Karam said he has a $16.5-million financing commitment for the project. First Bristol is putting $5 million “of our own equity” into the hotel, and the $3 million bank loan closes the financial gap, he said. […]

Captured January 10, 2022 from https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/2016/05/24/ri-state-aid-approved-for-planned-providence-hotel/28753862007/

  1. Parker, Paul Edward. “Providence projects reflect solid R.I. growth in 2017.” Providence Journal (RI), 5 May 2018. https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/2018/05/06/providence-projects-reflect-ris-solid-growth-in-2017/12292993007/. Accessed January 11, 2022. 

  2. Brussat, David. “My Turn: David Brussat: Say no to ugly buildings.” Providence Journal: Web Edition Articles (RI), sec. News, 28 Oct. 2019. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/176E756635D57A98. Accessed 11 Jan. 2022.