Put Fane tower downtown

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Rendering of OneTen luxury residential tower proposal from circa 2005. (Art In Ruins)

In 2005, Mayor Cicilline permitted a developer from Boston to demolish the dear old Providence National Bank (1929, addition 1950), near the Arcade downtown, before the developer had its financing sewn up. Even before the 2008 recession pulled the rug out from what remained of the proposal, OneTen Westminster died slowly, shrinking from the tallest building in Providence to the chimera of a W luxury hotel before going poof!

After the collapse, the Providence Preservation Society swung into action to save the Weybosset Street façade of the bank building, which the developer had promised to preserve and to incorporate into his proposed modernist residential skyscraper. The façade remains in place, and should serve as the base of whatever eventually arises there.

Indeed, this elegant parking lot is where the Fane tower should go.

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Fane tower. (pbn.com)

A couple of other downtown possibilities exist in that immediate vicinity. There is a parking lot on the other side of the Arcade, between it and the former Paolino World Headquarters, now rehabbed as a residential building. And there are two parking lots on either side of Custom House Street near Pot au Feu, Capriccio, and the Providence River.

A collection of parking lots in Downcity (the old commercial district) between Washington and Weybosset streets is probably the largest available space in the old downtown, but it should be reserved for a mixed multi-building development better calculated to fit into the historic character of that part of downtown. Of course, there are also the vast stretches of Capital Center that remain undeveloped four decades after that project began in 1978. Much of Capital Center’s architecture undermines the vaulting quality of the Providence skyline.

The grand shaper of cities in me calculates that the Weybosset facade lot would be the best place for a very tall building to strengthen the crescendo of the Providence skyline. Second best would be the lots next to the river, and this could even be the best if the alternative is putting the Fane tower too close to the Industrial Trust, as seems to be the case with the defunct OneTen tower in the images at the top and bottom of this post.

I consider the latest design for Fane’s tower ridiculous and even plagiaristic, but even in its current form I would support its construction in the Financial District. Nestled closely up among our other towers, its goofy form would certainly be eye-catching. A downtown location would enable a very tall tower to strengthen the skyline’s crescendo, relieving it from the wandering pustules of height built since 1990. To move the Fane tower there would improve the city in so many ways that the sacrifice might be worthwhile.

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Downtown site for Fane tower. (WJAR)

Momentarily I’ll cite these benefits, most of which come from an email dialogue among opponents of the Fane tower and assembled by the Jewelry District Association. But first I’d like to point out that a very tall building of traditional design, inspired perhaps by, say, New York’s Woolworth Building, would be best – if Fane is interested in a truly iconic building rather than a sham iconic building that belongs in Dubai.

The JDA bunch includes Olin Thompson, Lewis Dana, Bob Burke, Brian Heller, Tim Empkie, and Stewart Martin. I hope I haven’t left anyone out. They have been batting this around for a day or so. They have set up a couple grids that stack the advantages of moving the Fane tower downtown versus remaining at its currently proposed site. At a downtown site, the developer would benefit from a more generous height limit more easily relaxed, and a better fit within a denser urban context nearer to transportation and other amenities. The city would benefit from the above, plus the retention of the Fane tower’s initial 195 site for possible uses more amenable to high-tech opportunities and its parkside environment.

To save space I’ve summarized the two very interesting grids of benefits. The JDA bunch cites additional advantages accruing to the city, the state and the developer, but the biggest would be citizen and government support for the Fane rather than opposition. I’m sure that the discussion I’ve described just above will continue, teasing out even more benefits from a new location of the tower for both Providence’s citizens and Citizen Fane.

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Computer rendering of OneTen residential tower proposal from 2005. (BHP Development)

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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20 Responses to Put Fane tower downtown

  1. Pingback: Lessons from the Fane ouster | Architecture Here and There

  2. Kyle Agronick says:

    Instead of thousands of people living and spending their money downtown we’ll get a nice boring 2 or 3 story building where a law firm will set up shop. Someone is trying to spend millions of dollars invigorating downtown and Rhode Islanders are trying to chase them away. We could have a beautiful tall modern building on the water for residential and retail use. Instead we’ll get some nondescript commercial building that wouldn’t look out of place in Cranston.

    We have tall towers on the water across from the mall and they improve the city tremendously. I am writing this directly across the street from where this building will going at 225 Dyer. I would love to leave work for lunch and step outside and go to the restaurants there. Maybe even have an apartment there.


    • Steve says:

      Fully agree. Two points.
      First, “Rhode Islanders” are irrelevant to this issue. The opposition is from a tiny Providence group and its out of his league Mayor.
      Second, it will be all condos…not apartments – finally.


  3. What about the Victory Plating site which was proposed as a Providence alternative for the Pawsox stadium and is now owned by Lifespan? A mixed use building including space for Lifespan might just be the ticket. Even the current ridiculous design wouldn’t be so out of place there.


  4. John Gallagher says:

    Another possibility (I don’t know if the land is available) is to filll the lot behind the triangular citizens bank building, pictured above… plenty of room for a parking garage as well…though I don’t want the garage to dominate the street-scape. The proposed student housing across the street has been compromised to look more historical rather than hysterical, why not Fane Towers?


    • As I’ve said below, sites like behind Citizens in Capital Center are no different than putting Fane on the 195 land. What’s the diff between a sore thumb a quarter mile from the skyline’s crescendo and one a half a mile in the other direction? Little to none, I think. But put the sore thumb up amid the existing skyscrapers of the Financial Districct and it is bearable, maybe even exciting, and serves to strengthen the skyline. Of course it doesn’t need to be a sore thumb, but that’s another discussion.


  5. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Well exactly, David.
    Rhode Islanders aren’t giving an outright “No”… they’re say’n “Not there!”…
    Downtown has languished too long. The City and the State need to get serious about Transfer Development Rights. Fane may resist, but has he (or the city) even bothered to ask? The 195 Commission could use their parcels as leverage. Here’s a helpful link (see “Guide New Urban Development”): https://www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/clue/Documents/PlanImplementation/Transfer_of_Development_Rights.pdf


  6. Steve says:

    FACT – Parcel 42, the proposed Hope tower site, IS downtown. I repeat, it IS downtown…a mere 3/10s of a mile from the Textron tower. The issue here is the ridiculously low height zoning from Dorrance south to Point Street…all downtown.

    Same old small town thinking that restricts growth in PVD,


    • margery winter says:

      Steve, I’m in complete agreement. I’m an artist, I live in the Jewelry District – I live downtown and I live in the 21st century. My inspiration comes from the evolution of a landscape that I know intimately. The Fane Tower belongs on parcel 42.


      • Michael Tyrrell says:

        Interesting, Margery, I’m an artist and a designer working in Architecture and Planning for over 30 years… And as it happens I have a degree in Real Estate and Urban Development (LOL!), but I guess that’s all the more reason for the Journal and others not to listen: No, the Jewelry District is NOT Downtown. Take a look at an aerial view (say on Google Earth or Bing Maps). This tower -or anything like it- should not go anywhere east or south of Friendship and Dyer Streets. Westminster or Pine Streets would be the best location; next to the Arcade, where as David suggests, Fane could amplify the existing density or “crescendo” (as he puts it) of the existing skyline, but don’t place anything super-tall on the waterfront. That’s just plain wrong-headed.


        • Steve says:

          Michael – Please use facts…the Jewerly District IS one of the downtown districts. They include Arts and Entertainment, Financial, and Jewelry. It is listed in zoning, on the city district map, and in other documentation.

          First -The parcel is .3 miles or 4 city blocks from the core of the Financil District.
          Second – I guess Chicago, Tampa, St Petersburg, Cincinnati and scores of other cities don’t see a river and towers as in conflict. Those “wrongheaded” folks.
          Third – What says towers don’t belong south of Dyer? Why? There are three 25 story smokestacks south of Point Street!

          The entire district, as part of downtown, should have 300 foot heights to expand the skyline, not add density to a small area.


    • Steve, I think what people who oppose Fane are hoping to do is to help Providence to grow into a bigger city in ways that retain its character as a relatively small city. Keep the downtown walkable. The Jewelry District is not downtown. Cluster growth in the center of downtown, and allow it to grow more gently as development spreads away from downtown. Broadly speaking, that can help us both grow and retain our character.

      Various commenters, for all their desire to see Providence grow by suggesting sites that are away from the Financial District, such as the police/fire HQ lot, or the collection of lots on either side of Westminster between Aborn and Snow, or in Capital Center, are from an urbanistic perspective just closer-in versions of the site Fane wants to use now. Siting the bulding so as to sharpen, again, rather than continue to disperse the crescendo of the skyline will have a variety of urbanistic impacts that help assure that Providence does not grow too haphazardly.


    • Anonymous says:

      They get there ideas from watching the rifleman or bonanza


  7. Glen Beattie says:

    Well if it does get built…how about the parking lot where the old police station once stood…it would be surrounded by the Regency Apartments and other tall buildings….


  8. Maria says:

    I Agree with @stanley but for reasons that financially I don’t think the area on weybosett could withstand the construction. Closed streets etc…
    In the aborn st area there would be much more room.


    • You may be correct, Maria. Even still, if the Weybosset facade site is too tight, perhaps the site near the river where two parking lots are separated by Custom House Street would be better. For the reasons I put to Stan below, I think upper Westminster has the same problems of distance from the main skyline crescendo as the currently proposed site for the building.


  9. stanleyxweiss@gmail.com says:

    You’re getting warmer Dave, but the place it should go is in the old retail core on one of the parking lots there , for example Aborn st

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Stan, we should put the skyscrapers where the skyscrapers go and the historical character where the historical character goes. A supertall on that site would be almost as bad as a supertall on the site now proposed by Fane. It would block a higher use just as the currently proposed location blocks a higher use.


  10. Ahh, the spirit of compromise…for a better outcome…


    • A friend suggests to me that inviting Fane to build in Providence would be like inviting Jack the Ripper to date his 15-year-old daughter. Maybe that is extreme. Maybe it is not. But showing a willingness to compromise might bring us all closer to clarity.


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