EDITORIAL: Providence is a Special Place, It Needs to Grow Upward with the Fane Tower

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


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Fane's Tower --the largest private in Providence in the past 20 years

The City of Providence can be a great, historic and vibrant city, but it is economically stagnant. Providence has fewer people than it did 50 years ago.

The Providence DMA ranks second in the United States for loss of college grads. More than 70 percent of new grads from Brown, PC, RISD, URI, RIC, and Johnson & Wales leave. Only Detroit loses more of its grads.

Hotels are being built in the downtown, but the Superman building — the tallest building in the City — has been vacant for five-plus years.

The Providence Place Mall is in flux — no longer is it a destination upscale mall. The mall has transformed from three top-tier anchor retailers to a Macy’s, a new discount store and the third anchor store was made into parking.

Now, Providence has an opportunity to build a significant residential tower — one will which will bring $300 million in private investment, create hundreds of direct jobs over the next three to four years and be a major new taxpayer for the city.

Last week, the City of Providence’s Ordinance Committee gave the approval to increase the height restriction on so-called parcel 42 from 130 feet to up to 600 feet. The height limit was set in the past decade as the 195 development was being envisioned. Now, the vision of the mostly vacant land is transforming. And it needs to, as there is little development of 195 lands.

“Density has important benefits for both production and consumption, primarily because it lowers transport costs. In production, cities traditionally lower the cost of moving goods, people, and ideas. In consumption, they provide access to large public goods and to specialized services” writes Edward L. Glaeser of Brookings.

The Need for Density, Affordability and Limiting Gentrification

Creating density is critical for Providence to build population, build wealth and to address affordable housing. There is so little buildable land in Providence that one developer is proposing tearing down one of the most historical estates and carving up the grounds into ten lots and McMansions.

In the Mount Hope section of Providence, housing prices have skyrocketed and it has transformed one of the oldest African-American neighborhood into a bastion of gentrification. Mount Hope is becoming more and more of an extension of the East Side than a distinct historic neighborhood. Homes that once sold for $120,000 have now quadrupled in cost to $400,000 to $500,000 over the past two decades.

While density and height alone will not solve affordability problems it does decrease land pressure and it does increase supply.

“While those opposed will tout fears of disrupted skylines, congested roads and the tearing up of trees, density done well means something other than endless high rises. It brings myriad benefits spanning the social, economic and environmental – all of which bear positive influences on housing affordability. Infrastructure and transport planning is vital. With a considered approach to mixed-use and middle-density developments such as low and high-rise, duplexes and rezoning of unused developments, density can work harmoniously alongside architecture and heritage, maximizing the housing potential of many towns and cities,” writes Dr. Shane Geha in the Herald in Sydney.

It is time to build. The Fane Tower is an economic boon. It creates a new Providence — one which might be better at retaining grads, creating excitement, and driving additional investment. The development of the Fane Tower might be the best thing to spark future investment and save the Superman building — certainly, the existing strategy has proven to be a failure.

Hundreds of millions of private investment, hundreds of jobs, and a major new taxpayer are what Providence needs.


Related Slideshow: Fane Unveils New Design for Tower


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