The Providence Journal ran an editorial yesterday, “Activity vs. eyesore,” that takes a conventional attitude toward economic development that could ensure that Providence’s economy will never be as robust as it ought to be.
The editorial supports razing the city-owned Fogarty Building to build an extended-stay hotel proposed by the Procaccianti Group, of Cranston. The stand puts the paper’s editorial board (of which I was a member for 30 years) at odds with local preservationists, who hold an inordinate regard for this empty, leaky, stinky, ugly hulk.
It is a former human-services office designed by Castellucci, Galli & Planka Associates and opened in 1967. Its architectural style is not called Brutalist for nothing. Yes, the name comes from béton brut, or “rough concrete” in French, but it has stuck because of its accurate connotation. It deserves to be torn down. (I wrote about it in “Not so hard to say yes to beauty” on Feb. 15, 2007.)
Unfortunately, the building proposed by Procaccianti looks even uglier than the Fogarty. It is strictly suburban, and would feel much more at home out on Jefferson Boulevard. The Fogarty site is on Fountain Street next to the Journal’s lovely Neo-Georgian headquarters, designed by Albert Kahn and completed in 1934 (with its fourth floor added in 1949). The Fogarty should not be torn down unless something better – significantly better, considering the sluggardly merits of the Fogarty – is proposed. Even with the jobs, revenue and “activity” that are promised, this hotel does not qualify.
“A bright new hotel would be a vast improvement,” reads the editorial. Yes indeed, but again, this hotel does not qualify as a bright new hotel. The Journal has bought into the argument for jobs at any cost. But the cost can be too high. We recognize that when cost is conceived in terms of municipal subsidies, but there are other kinds of costs, too. The cost of inflicting a hotel that looks like this on Providence would be too high.
An old monstrosity always holds out the hope of replacement by something the public can admire, something that will build upon the city’s historical character, and possibly earn a higher return. A new monstrosity promises to glare at us for decades. Why replace a building we can blame on our fathers with a building we can blame only on ourselves?
Act in haste, repent at leisure!
The city deserves better. Tell Procaccianti to hold its horses and submit a superior design that strengthens the state’s brand rather than diluting it. If it refuses, the city should wait it out while seeking a new developer.
The city and state do themselves a disservice by assuming that second best is the best Rhode Island can do. We have embraced second best in the Route 195 Corridor, in the Capital Center District, at RISD, at Brown and at Providence College (the latter two having briefly seemed to learn their lesson). Please, not downtown as well! Why must Rhode Island sell itself short every time? Mediocre is not the new excellent. The Ocean State deserves better, and should demand it. Genuine prosperity requires it.