A Summit Fact March 2021

Image via ArtInRuins.com

By Erik Christiansen

One reason we love our neighborhood is how easy it is to walk to great restaurants, shops, and parks –even a hospital. But down the hill from that hospital, a parking lot covers the former site of the Rhode Island Auditorium. It’s kind of wild to think that at one point we could have strolled over to hear Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bob Dylan, Cream, the Who (twice, first playing the Auditorium as the opener for Herman’s Hermits!), Chicago, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Grateful Dead. 

The venue opened as home to the Providence Reds ice hockey team in 1926, long before any of those performers were born. For a few years after World War II, the NBA’s Providence Steamrollers called the Auditorium home as well, winning just six games (still the NBA record) in the 1947-48 season. The venue, which held 5,300 people, hosted many other sporting and cultural events over the decades until it was demolished in 1989. If you happen to have an old photograph from a visit to the auditorium, please send it to SNA and we’ll share it on our Summit History page on the SNA website and our Instagram! (@SNAProv)

City commission approves NMS plan

The Providence City Plan Commission Tuesday approved a revised plan to construct a fitness center on North Main Street and to replace the Sears building with a 300-space parking lot.

Although 11 neighborhood residents testified against the plan and members of the UniteHere! union displayed a chain of 86 letters, many from Summit, opposing the project, the board voted unanimously in favor of the construction.

The approval was conditional on the LA Fitness chain working with planning staff to develop a system to dim after-hours lights in the parking lot and make the building’s signs more in keeping with the surroundings.

Acting Director of Planning and Development Robert Azar admitted that the proposal would not have been permitted under the new zoning rules currently being codified, but said that “this is today” and under current regulations, the developer had met all the requirements.

Commission chair Christine West said that the zoning revision “is an opportunity to make the city we want,” but also said current criteria had been met. She and other members of the panel thanked the residents who had taken the time to testify Tuesday and at a similar hearing in April.

Board opposes North Main Street proposal

The SNA board of directors, at their regular, public meeting Monday night, voted to continue to oppose the proposal to demolish the Sears building on North Main Street and replace it with a parking lot.

In a unanimous voice vote, the following motion was approved: “Given the very minimal nature of the response to the concerns we expressed at the last meeting of the Planning Board, the Board of Directors of the SNA feels compelled to oppose the LA Fitness Project.”

The members of the board took note of the concerns that the developers might abandon the project in the face of opposition, but decided that a flawed plan was not better than no plan. The consensus was that the residents of Summit have the opportunity and the responsibility to insist that changes to the quality of life in their neighborhood be made only in a manner consistent with their wishes. As one member pointed out during the discussion, “Communities such as Barrington and East Greenwich don’t get ugly buildings built in their neighborhoods because they insist on it.”

Other board members pointed out that the developers have invested time and money in proposing the construction and are unlikely to walk away, but said that replacing a long-standing eyesore with an even worse eyesore was not a worthwhile goal.

The SNA board will convey its decision to the Providence City Plan Commission at a public hearing beginning at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday at 444 Westminster St. and encourages all concerned residents to attend to voice their own views.

Parking-lot proposal for North Main Street resurfaces with few modifications

SNA board member Michael McGlynn reads a letter to the Plan Commission outlining objections to the development proposal as UniteHere members hold up signs protesting the parking lot.

The proposal to demolish the Sears building on North Main Street and replace it with a 300-space parking lot is scheduled to come before a city hearing again, but with few of the changes urged by neighborhood residents and the planning panel itself..

The Procaccianti Group, the Rhode Island developers acting for the LA Fitness chain of health clubs, has filed revised plans with the Providence City Plan Commission that show some modifications to the planned building and a few additional plantings, but the size and scope of parking lot remain the same. (The new plans are included below.)

The plan board will resume consideration of the proposal at the regularly scheduled public meeting beginning at 4:45 p.m. May 20 in the Department of Planning and Development’s first floor conference room at 444 Westminster St. A similar hearing is to be held at about the same time in Pawtucket.

At the April 22 public hearing in Providence, members of SNA joined with other concerned neighbors to urge changes in the proposal.

Testifying before the commission, 11 opponents of the application objected to the starkness and lack of environmental safeguards of the plan. SNA board of directors member Michael McGlynn read into the record a letter detailing the organization’s concerns. Some North Main Street merchants, supported by about a dozens members of Local 217 of the UniteHere! union displaying protest signs, also voiced objections.

The commissioners said the city “can do better from this developer” and voted to table the plan until the next meeting after having denied the applicant’s request to combine master and preliminary plan hearings, which would have moved the project along quickly.

The action puts off consideration of the proposal so “we can work together and figure this out,” the board said. The panel also requested an environmental-impact study and told the developer to come back with improvements to its parking-lot design.

At the beginning of the hearing, Andrew Teitz, the lawyer for the applicant, outlined the scope of the proposal, which includes a new building on the Pawtucket side of the city border and the parking lot on the Providence side. The new LA Fitness center structure would face the parking area, not North Main Street, and the only entrance would be from the lot. The building would have large windows looking out onto the street.

The plan calls for the new parking lot to meet just the minimum requirements of the Providence Master Plan, but with few plantings. The lawyer said storm-water runoff management would be better than exists now, but also meet only minimum requirements.

After the developer’s lawyer presented several witnesses who testified to the economic benefits of the proposal, the commission opened the floor to public comments

The first was in a letter from City Councilman Kevin Jackson, who represents the district and who said he supports development, but not in a form that violates the city’s Comprehensive Plan. He wrote that the current proposal doesn’t fit with the urban model of mass transit and needs more landscaping.

The first live witness, who identified himself as Bob Bacon, the owner of a restaurant across from the site, said the plan was the perfect proposal and that the area needed more parking.

Next was SNA Vice President Kerry Kohring, who said the organization supported development but had serious reservations about the proposal and deferred to the presentation of the letter from SNA.

The specific objections in the letter were read by McGlynn, citing problems with streetscape and layout, parking-lot size, landscaping and architecture. The complete text of the letter [PDF].

SNA board member Chris Bull said there was no vision in the plan and that it needed more than a bare minimum of environmental safeguards. Another board member, Grant Dulgarian, testified that the plan does not do justice to a vision of the city on a human scale and that more surface parking is not desirable. He pointed out that a parking deck already exists in the rear of the proposed building.

Several North Main Street business owners also criticized the plan. Peter Kammerer supported LA Fitness but called for a more imaginative proposal that would be interactive with pedestrians. Peter Gallant echoed the need for development along the street but said he had problems with the design and that it should be more pedestrian friendly.

Greg Gerritt, who called himself a friend of the Mosshasuck River, said the storm-water drainage plan was based on the size of the parking lot and was not friendly to the environment.

Jenna Karlin, the staff director of UniteHere! and a city resident, presented pictures of LA Fitness facilities elsewhere in the country that had better building designs for urban locations and did not have large surface parking lots.

Aaron Regunberg, a candidate for state representative from the district, urged the developers to “do it right” and said the current proposal isn’t the best possible design.

Plan Commission Chairwoman Christine West summed up that the board had a duty to the citizens of the area and that much of the current development proposal “works to the detriment of the City of Providence.” The panel then voted the continuance.

Peter Kammerer, of the Sandwich Hut on North Main Street, cites problems with the plan.

New construction on North Main Street

The new building under construction.

There is a new building going up on North Main Street in Summit – the first such construction in years – and it has been described as “what should be being built along this corridor.”

It is a mixed-use development with the ground floor dedicated to retail space and with three two-story townhouses above. The project is a collaboration of Jordan Durham, of D+P Real Estate, and Peter Gill Case, of Truth Box Inc., and occupies the space formerly know as “Tar Beach” for the parking lot there.

Durham said the $750,000 development is planned for a June 1 opening, but the ground floor will be “designed around what the tenant will need,” such as a restaurant. He added that there are as yet no commitments for occupancy and the construction is on “pure speculation” of what is beneficial to the neighborhood.

The developers met at a meeting of the North Main Street Merchants Association, an outgrowth of the Summit Neighborhood Association, in 2006, Durham said, and began discussing the needs of the community, where they both are residents. He said the current design is the third they have formulated as Rhode Island’s economic situation fluctuated.

The building is engineered to be “super-green,” Durham explained, with new double-studded walls that should provide R40 insulation. He said it is “probably the most energy-efficient building in the state of Rhode Island” with a CEE Tier Three rating. With solar panels on the roof, Durham said, the building “could probably get net zero” in energy use. The insulation also works to deaden traffic noise from North Main Street, Durham pointed out, as he closed an open window and the interior of the building fell quiet.

The design/development partners’ web site for the project – 1261northmain.com – says, “From large historic mill renovations to cutting-edge new construction, our team has been successfully involved with a broad range of building types,” such as the construction of a building using former shipping containers. “Across all our work, is a commitment to sustainability, community revitalization, green building principles, and high quality design and construction,” the site says, and Durham adds that in their vision of what North Main Street should be like, “we feel very good” about their project.

Jef Nickerson, co-founder, editor and publisher of Greater City Providence, who called the new structure “what should be built,” urges more and “bigger versions of it” on North Main Street.

What the finished project will look like.

Design partner Jordan Durham with his new building.

Update on plans to pave local streets

Here is the Summit neighborhood portion of the city’s comprehensive paving map, which includes the streets that the Narragansett Bay Commission is responsible for. Those marked in black are the NBC’s domain, those in dark purple are to be done by the city between the summer of 2014 and the spring of 2015. The map is provided by NBC’s Public Affairs Manager Jamie R. Samons, who says, “If it’s a street that the NBC is doing work on, then we’ll pave it.”

In the Combined Sewer Overflow project schedule on NBC’s website, “Reconstruction and curb-to-curb repaving of all affected street and sidewalks,” includes “Cemetery Street, Nashua Street, Frost Street, Collyer Street, Concord Street, Matilda Street, White Street, stubs to Colonial, Dexterdale, Edgehill, Stenton, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, Chace, Hillside” to be completed by the fall of 2014.

Samons adds, “Starting next week, neighbors will see resetting curb and construction inverts in the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th street areas. There will be no road closures until the contractor resumes drain construction early April.”

City of Providence Paving Map - Small