The proposed apartment complex on Harris Avenue behind Providence Place, near the 903 apartments, looks enchanting. Of course, the devil is in the details, and one fears the design will not even live up to the drawings above and below, such as they are. But if it does, or better yet surpasses them, then a Parisian sensibility almost Haussmannesque in its glory could emerge in the Promenade District. Baron Haussmann elegantly reconfigured Paris in the mid-19th century, providing the boulevards by which it is so well known. The former industrial powerhouse of a quarter through which the Woonasquatucket River runs has an abundance of fine mill architecture that stretches impressively, despite not a few demolitions, from Providence Place to Olneyville. This new proposal should strive to live up to its setting.
The Journal’s story on the project is “Luxury apartments in Providence clear first hurdle with city,” by Gregory Smith (glad to see they’ve put one of the newsroom’s best reporters back on the city beat). The story says nothing of the building’s aesthetic intentions, but it would only be five stories. Alas, in Providence, height seems to be the single factor that most people consider of interest in a proposed building. Sad. And in such a place as Providence …
[Joe] Pierik, a senior vice president for the development company Carpionato Group, enthusiastically described his company’s proposed construction of a 459-unit luxury apartment complex on Harris Avenue just west of Providence Place shopping mall.
The weedy, vacant 6.06-acre site, bisected by a Route 95 southbound exit ramp to the mall, has, he said, “great walkability and connectivity” to a train station, buses, highways and downtown. “Two hundred and fifty thousand cars a day go zooming past this site” on Routes 95, 6 and 10, he pointed out.
The 903’s traditional appeal is skin deep, but not bad considering the usual alternatives in Providence nowadays. A better building of the same sort nearby, across the street, will make the architecture of the 903 look better. The new will rub off on the old. A transference of good looks to less good happens, raising the aesthetic of the entire constellation of buildings. The delightful old mills across the Woonasquatucket, the Foundry, will contribute to this effect, as will the mall across Route 95, believe it or not.
The high number of proposed units for this complex in the Promenade District is titillating, and all the more so in light of the Fane development of up to three towers (two taller than the Industrial Trust) recently proposed for the 195 land. Is there a market? I got a call just a couple hours ago from Providence development maven Lee Juskalian, now living in California. He was excited, and said that given the new proposals piling up in and near downtown, including maybe 1,000 new jobs at high salaries, the market for housing might be plausible. Maybe he’s right. Of course, if more of the developments he cites were designed to boost rather than to undermine the historical character of Providence, as all too many are now, a further revitalization of Rhode Island’s capital city would be much more likely. Differentiation from competition is vital.
The Harris Avenue proposal comes from the Carpionato Group, of Cranston, which has developed the Chapel View mixed-use center next to Garden City on the state’s old reform school, incorporating some of the latter’s stone architecture. A marvelously delicious restaurant does business in the old chapel, named the Chapel Grille. Carpionato also has a development history in Providence. Lovely proposals, with superb drawings that cause, at least in some, palpitations of the architectural heart. But we have been here before.
Carpionato proposed to replace on this same Harris Avenue site the old produce terminal that was demolished about a decade ago. A mixed-use commercial development intended to build on the strength of Providence Place. Nothing happened. Around the same time, it proposed a hotel on Parcel 12, the triangular land next to Kennedy Plaza. The Capital Center Commission’s design committee turned thumbs down because the proposal was traditional. Instead of striking back, Carpionato slunk off into the sunset. Carpionato was first to propose a mixed-use development on the east side of the 195 corridor. The design was adorable. The 195 commission shunted the project aside because another developer had a small proposal for part of the same land. Return with a new plan, said the commissioners to Carpionato. So why has its excellent proposal not been reconfigured to exclude that parcel and sent to the 195 commission again? Good question. … Greg?
So Carpionato gives good plan but seems weak on follow-through. Let’s hope for better results this time around.