A new proposal has arisen for Parcel 12, the triangular Capital Center District land at the northeast corner of Kennedy Plaza that I’ve long called Bad Sculpture Park, in honor of its cast of uninspiring works of art. The Journal’s story today notes that hotels on that land (separated by Memorial Boulevard and the Woonasquatucket River from Capital Center itself) have been proposed before.
The Journal story, “Developer envisions hotel on triangular lot,” by Paul Grimaldi, notes two earlier proposals, by Joseph Paolino and then by Carpionato Properties, adding that “[t]he site’s limitations were the main reason neither of those proposals got built.” He was referring to its shape and the fact that it’s filled land with a high water table.
Perhaps that’s true, but it should not be forgotten that the second proposal’s traditional architecture – a French Second Empire-ish design I’ll grant was less than perfect – was greeted with unnecessary derision by the Capital Center’s design review panel. Their hooting was not because the design was flawed but because it was traditional. If it had been a better traditional design, criticism from the panel’s almost exclusively pro-modernist members would probably have been even more scathing. I suspect the developer decided he’d had enough.
Design review in Providence is much like I suspect that design review is in most places. It is performed by reviewers who are sympathetic to modern architecture but who realize that the public does not like it very much, and because they are political appointees they do not relish snubbing the public’s taste out loud. So the panelists’ comments are almost always difficult for developers and architects to interpret, and they leave such meetings rolling their eyes and pulling at their hair, and rightly so.
The Journal article said that this hotel is being proposed by First Bristol Corp., whose head, James Karam, was responsible for the nice traditional design he pushed through successfully for the Hampton Inn on Weybosset Street. Karam told me by phone this morning that a design for his latest proposal on Parcel 12 does not yet exist. I hope it will be traditional, but if it must go through both the Capital Center and the Downcity design review, then I wish him luck.
I will be following this project closely. For example, I am trying to get my hands on the Carpionato proposal from 2006, since I no longer have access to the Journal archives. Maybe the Carpionatos themselves – who have a delightful project on the boards for the Route 195 district – can send me an old, tattered mimeograph.