Calm before the Fane storm

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Rhode Island State House at sunrise. (Shobeir Ansari, shobeiransariphotography.com)

A quiet – or a quietus, as a friend from Boston might put it – reigns over the architectural landscape in Providence. Nobody is certain whether the city’s smackdown of the proposed Fane tower design trumps the authority of the state to push it forward in the face of widespread public opposition.

Some teapot tempests are making small waves. Chairwoman Kristi Gelnett of the Downtown Design Review Committee, which issued the latest Fane rebuke, lives in Warren, not Providence. An ugly modernist cliché has been proposed for a new state archives right across Smith Street from the State House. It was designed, coincidentally, by the firm DBVW, where Gelnett has her day job. The fate of the Beresford-Nicholson mansion at 288 Blackstone Boulevard seems to have been secured with the advent of a new buyer, but the developers who hope to subdivide the rest of the estate have not gone away, so the enchanting caretaker’s cottage remains at risk.

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Proposed Fane tower. (PBN)

A bigger tempest has arisen, however, following the rejection of the Fane tower by the DDRC and its DBVW chair. One of developer Jason Fane’s lapdogs, Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, has introduced a bill to prevent municipalities from having a say in projects on 200 or more acres of state land – not just on the I-195 corridor, but in every one of Rhode Island’s cities and town.

That’s a breathtaking assault on citizens’ rights, and it has been covered in the media, but General Assembly members have not exactly leaped to their feet to oppose the measure, which is designed to muzzle each of their constituencies. It seems like “inside baseball” stuff, and is being defended as “streamlining” the process of development. Huh? That’s like streamlining the process of getting dressed by making it illegal to put your pants on.

Fortunately, my state senator, Gayle Goldin, of Providence, has shown an admirable willingness to discuss her stand on the issue. She told me that she has “taken her constituents’ concerns to the Senate president.” Good! When I pressed her further, she said she “opposes it as it stands now.”

Now that Senator Goldin has expressed her doubts about that legislation, maybe other legislators will follow her lead, oppose the bill, and eventually provide it, along with the Fane tower, with a well-deserved quietus, or death, as the word was used by Shakespeare in Hamlet.

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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8 Responses to Calm before the Fane storm

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dr Downtown was wise to leave the journal when he did, as it is slowly disintegrating.

    Like

  2. Steve says:

    Well, I heartily disagree.

    My crowd, ALL Providence folks across the city, support the Hope Point project. We welcome it fully. We are sick and tire of the squat low rise crap being built on premium downtown land, the city’s disgustingly restrictive and difficult development process, the small town mentality, a social activist Mayor’s unwelcoming attitude (except for illegal aliens), and the growth opportunities lost.

    As to “whittled down” – not as we see it. If it is state land, they control it. Of course, with a different Mayor, it would be a moot issue. Our reputation is getting worse in among the folks who fuel economic growth.

    This defines, in large measure, the divide on this matter.

    Like

    • Ben says:

      Steve, you are a man on a mission! You need to get your crowd to be more vocal, as you’re the only Providence resident I know who is for this project as its being pitched. I would build it downtown next door to the Arcade – or higher up in the Jewelry District closer to I-95. But then Fan couldn’t sell his dream for all that $$$.

      Like

      • Steve says:

        Well, the fact is that proponents of anything usually stay publicly silent and work through their representatives. The City Council spoke for the majority of their constituents.

        As to “downtown” near the Arcade, the parcel it sits on and the entire Innovation District IS downtown. You are correct, a parcel the Financial District would be less impressive/attractive than 42…that’s the point of development of the new parcels in the Innovation District.

        Like

  3. olin Thompson says:

    I assume it is ok to publish the fame part, ok?

    Like

  4. Steve says:

    Ha!!!

    Once again, there is NO evidence of “…widespread public opposition.” Same crowd of perhaps 1-2% of the city’s population.

    A “…breathtaking assault on citizen’s rights”?? What rights?? The right to express oneself.
    What about mine and tens of thousands of others? Same rights.
    We have a representative democracy, not a direct one.

    First, the General Assembly represents the city citizens and the state citizens.
    Second, the state does have the full authority to control its land (the old interstate parcels).
    Third, government must always guard against the tyranny of the minority (AKA “tyranny of the elites”) – rooted in our history.

    Beautiful pic of the State House.

    Like

    • Since there is no polling on this, Steve, I see a lot more people organizing and coming out against it at meetings than those who are for it, and many of those latter don’t live in Providence. That’s how I judge it.

      We are a representative democracy, and those levels of representation include local government. Removing a whole level of government with valid jurisdiction is indeed an assault on popular rights. Even the rights of those who support Fane and live in the city are whittled down.

      Like

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