WBNA Community Development Committee and Providence Preservation Society Planning & Architectural Review Committee hosted a joint project review meeting on the proposed redevelopment of 151-159 Broadway. The meeting took place on March 30, 2016 at UCAP, 75 Carpenter St, Providence.
At this well-attended project review meeting, neighbors and stakeholders heard a presentation and asked questions about a proposed mixed use development at 151-159 Broadway that is in its early stages of design and planning (see Building Elevations Site Plan and City Block Site Plan).
The initial design plans as proposed include over 13,000 sf of retail space on the first floor, a drive-thru that would be accessed from Bradford Street, and between 24 and 26 rental apartments on the building's second and third floors. The plans also involve demolishing the current structures on Broadway between Dean and Bradford Streets (currently Hall's on Broadway and the former Empire Beauty School), as well as two mid-19th century homes on Dean Street.
While it had been previously understood that the pharmacy retailer CVS was to be the primary prospective retail tenant, Zachary Darrow, a lawyer giving the presentation on behalf of the developers, stated that no Letter of Intent had yet been received from any potential retailer or retailers.
After careful analysis of the proposed initial design plans, both review committees – PPS's Planning and Architectural Review Committee and WBNA's Community Development Committee – offered their suggestions and concerns in detailed letters to the developers (see PPS PAR letter and WBNA CDC letter). At this early review and public comment phase, neither organization offered its support or opposition to the project generally.
Both WBNA CDC and PPS PAR Committee state that the design as presented does not fit the urban context in which it would be situated. WBNA appreciates "a willingness to deliver a high-quality project" but finds the project to be "not suited to the built environment of the neighborhood." WBNA also encourages investigating the possibility of re-using and building onto the larger existing structure at Broadway and Dean as an alternative to demolition.
In its review letter, PPS points out that "A suburban design that uses over half of the project site for parking and a drive through does not fit the eclectic urban character that constitutes this portion of Broadway." It also criticizes the design presentation for excluding any reference to the existing surrounding streetscape and buildings and for not providing a visual representation of the site design within the broader context of the neighborhood setting.
Suggestions from both committees as to how to achieve a more fitting urban design focus on architecturally "holding" the Broadway and Dean streetscapes, especially at the corner of these two dynamic city streets. Building to the street on all floors – as opposed to just the first floor as currently designed – would create a strong building presence along the entire streetscape whereas in the current design the building recedes from the street, most significantly at the corner.
Both committees cite the need for creating strong "massing" at the corner of Broadway and Dean where it is arguably most important for the building to be architecturally defined and anchored. Massing is an architectural term that refers to the shape and related proportions of a building and is significant in the same way that composition is to a painting or two dimensional design. Effective massing contributes to creating a sense of place in the built environment.
As an additional suggestion toward a more urban design, WBNA emphasizes the importance of connecting the street and community to the building through the use of windows (not display cases) that allow for engagement between interior retail activity and the public outside, and by creating a main entrance on Broadway and/or Dean Streets as opposed to the parking lot.
Both WBNA and PPS suggest that developers consider preserving the two Greek Revival multi-family homes near Dean and Federal Streets in that these two homes could strengthen the streetscape and maintain the context of the neighborhood.
WBNA and PPS agree that an exit onto Dean Street from this proposed development's parking lot would pose untenable increased traffic issues on an already congested city street. Both committees also oppose a drive-through given its inappropriateness in a dense urban neighborhood. WBNA is strongly opposed to this feature and expressed its concerns about exacerbated traffic in this traffic-challenged city block.
Lastly, WBNA encouraged minimizing the parking lot in favor of expanding the building's footprint.
NATURE OF TENANCY
Zachary Darrow's announcement at the meeting that a retail tenant had not yet been determined raises concerns for the WBNA, as the nature of the retail tenant matters to our community. WBNA shared its concerns that "until the developer is able and willing to disclose more information about the nature of retail tenant(s)....the community is likely to maintain a wary, to adversarial, posture toward the project."
The CDC offers that there is some public sentiment that, of all large-scale national retailers to be considered, "CVS might be the most welcome choice" given that the corporation is local and "would arguably fulfill certain needs of the neighborhood."
Given the WBNA's emphasis on small, locally-owned businesses, the CDC encourages the developers to consider including smaller first floor retail spaces that could accommodate the one-of-a-kind community-based businesses populating so much of the west side and which contribute to Broadway's main street character. In addition, having professional office spaces available on the upper floors would be a valuable addition to the community, especially given that the majority of the current building is occupied with this type of tenant.
While developing a high quality building in this city block is a welcome idea, there is much community concern about gentrification and, in particular, about displacing both lower income residents and small business owners due to possible rent increases that could arise collaterally with the addition of quality development in the area. The WBNA urges developers to commit to keeping a percentage of residential units as affordable housing and to include affordable retail and professional space for small businesses.
Both PPS and WBNA urge developers to rise to the challenge of creating a landmark building that showcases the best of urban design. PPS asks for a "design that is decidedly of its time, featuring elements that illustrate its modernity." WBNA seeks "a 'state of the art' project that wins awards," "becomes a model for others to follow," and "that we will be fighting to preserve in 50 years."
WBNA is thrilled at the turnout of over a hundred people at this review meeting. This kind of community involvement and interest in neighborhood development show how much west side neighbors care about and value the community in which they live and work. It is also a testament of how important this site is to the west side.
Being a "gateway" to our neighborhood, 151-159 Broadway holds much promise and, with an outstanding urban design that takes neighborhood and community needs and context into consideration, could serve as a precedent-setting redevelopment project of which all could be proud.
WBNA Community Development Committee Letter to Zachary Darrow and BKA Architects
PPS Planning and Architectural Review Committee Letter to Zachary Darrow
151-159 Broadway City Block Site Plan
151-159 Broadway Building Elevations Site Plan
WBNA CDC Minutes from March 30, 2016, joint review meeting