We dodged the HQ2 bullet

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R.I.’s HQ2 proposal saw the Superman Building strap on glass hip-waders. (

Providence would have been slaughtered if Amazon had decided to build its second headquarters – HQ2 – in Rhode Island and its capital city. So for the loss of 50,000 well-paid jobs and sundry other benefits, we should not blame Amazon but thank it and instead blame Rhode Island’s proposal, which cried out for rejection. Now that Governor Raimondo has released Rhode Island’s secret plan to snag the online retail behemoth, we can see how predictable and uninteresting it had to have been to Amazon’s leadership.

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, which was responsible for assembling the proposal, would have offered economic subsidies to make up for Rhode Island’s toxic business conditions, employee training to make up for Rhode Island’s mediocre K-12 education system, and transportation improvements to make up for Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure and backward public transit system.

Amazon would have been out of its mind to have fallen for this.

R.I. releases details of pitch for Amazon ‘HQ2’” is the Providence Journal’s story on this by Patrick Anderson. It has enough details to curl your toenails. Go to the CommerceRI website for the gory details, which will make your hair stand on end. The subsidy package is called “Nimble Government and Responsi-Bold Incentives.” Whoever came up with that should be instantly sacked. As for the quality of life in Rhode Island and its capital city, nobody can deny its strengths. Yet even here officials felt they had to gild the lily: “News Flash! World’s Tiniest State Pops Out Coolest City.” Well, what about Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and, if you want to call it a nation, Vatican City? Entire countries tinier than Li’l Rhody.

Read the document itself, entitled “The Lively Experiment,” only partly redacted in its financial section. Leaving aside quality of life here, there is nothing about the proposal that separates it from offerings from the least mesmerizing of cities and states applying to host HQ2.  Rhode Island failed to make the cut because Amazon doubted its ability to absorb 50,000 new jobs. At least that’s what they told us.

Rhode Island should have insisted (diplomatically, of course) that Amazon must fit into Rhode Island, not vice versa. Amazon must build headquarters that would strengthen Rhode Island’s brand, not weaken it. The state should have assumed Amazon was sophisticated enough to value a proposal that forced it out of its HQ2 design box. Rhode Island should have said it would not put up with architecture that treats people like cogs in a machine. And if Amazon is in fact not sophisticated enough to grasp the boldness of such a pitch, so be it.

We must keep in mind that it was not Amazon but the state that suggested that the Superman Building strap on a pair of glass hip-waders. Look at the other images from the proposal below. They are a death wish. We’re lucky Amazon is looking elsewhere.

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About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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12 Responses to We dodged the HQ2 bullet

  1. Anonymous says:

    Well, early renderings – actually, an artist rendering – mean little, so I don’t see the dire architectual consequences of a Providence selection. As we all know, conditions can always apply.

    As I have pointed out in the past, RI is only “small” in terms of square miles (so is Conn, Mass, Maryland, and Delaware). It has more people than 7 states. So, frankly “small” is irrelevant.

    Further, rhe RFP was geared to a metro area, not a state – in this case, the 1.6M population Providence Metro…the nation’s 39th largest.

    As to Providence, and its metro, it would have benefited by the mass transit improvements and the longer term positive economic impact.

    In any event, too bad. Perhaps Amazon sensed the same old negative attitude – “too this, too that” – that always raises its ugly head around here.


    • Early renderings, Steve, actually do more than hint at the sensibility of the developer, which means that what the artist draws is likely to show up in some form on the ground. That would have been disastrous for Providence, and might well have played a considerable roll in making it a much smaller place after several decades during which it became totally trashed out, thus losing even more population.


      • Steve says:

        Well, I agree that the rendering may illustrate the sensibility of the developer, but again, the city controls design in the end. We neeed to look to possibilities, then control them.

        By the way, Providence is not losing population – it is growing.


        • The city does control design, and even has laws mandating that new development be consistent with historical character, at least in downtown (now defined rather broadly). But the city has shown absolutely zero willingness to comply, and given what the I-195 commission has approved, has no willingness to correct developers who do not comply. Yes, this can change, and that is why I keep writing what I write – in the hope that it will promote such change. There has been little reason for optimism, however. … And you are right, Providence population has grown by a little over 1,000 since 2010.


          • Steve says:

            You make a great point regarding our stunning historical character. We know that the size of a structure is not inconsistant with matching Providence historical design. But, government ensuring that developers approximate that character is required. And your vigilance is vital.

            Encouragingly, Providence population growth is projected to excelerate over the next 3-5 years. The current US Census effort for Providence County will give us a more accurate count.


  2. LazyReader says:

    You know liberalism has ruined your state/city when you have to beg for business, not the other way around.


  3. fthurber says:

    Hi Dave,

    I am a bit plugged into the booze scene in the state and heard an interesting story. One of the wine shop owners knows the guy who started Dogfish Head Brewery. He was from the area and wanted to have the brewery in Prov (RI?), but he said that the corruption and bribes that he would be required to pay drove him to DE. That is the business environment new companies have to deal with.

    On Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 4:26 PM, Architecture Here and There wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” Providence would have been slaughtered if Amazon > had decided to build its second headquarters – HQ2 – in Rhode Island and > its capital city. So for the loss of 50,000 well-paid jobs and sundry other > benefits, we should not blame Amazon but thank it and i” >


  4. stanleyxweiss@gmail.com says:

    Who is the architect, did the state put an RFP out?

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Preston Scott Cohen of Cambridge, Mass., seems to be the architect for most of the crap, with ZDS, of Providence, responsible for the crap pasted onto the Industrial Trust. Eric Zuena is its principal, and he designed the hotel going up now on Parcel 12.


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