Thayer Street to be revitalized this summer

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Thayer Street will get a makeover this summer as part of the Thayer Street Improvement District’s ongoing efforts.

Improvements will include ornamental concrete banding on crosswalks, new streetlamps and trees and sidewalk furniture such as benches, kiosks and garbage cans, according to Abigail Rider, director of real estate and administrative services for the University.

The TSID plans to work on the “hardscape” this summer, which will include construction on the sidewalks of the street. “Softscape” improvements, such as tree planting, will take place in the spring of next year, she added, noting the completion date is uncertain due to the variable nature of construction projects.

The improvements to the street are the first actions for the TSID, which was approved by the City Council in January. The organization “suffered from inertia” because it lacked an organizational structure, Rider said.

In the next few weeks, the organization will hold a meeting to select a nine-member board, and further discussion on proposed improvements will take place, said Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations.

Another meeting involving Thayer Street merchants is also scheduled to take place sometime in the next few weeks, said Darrell Brown, director of state and community relations at Brown.

The University contributed $350,000 to the TSID, and the city added $400,000. A new tax to be paid by Thayer Street property owners has been authorized by the City Council.

Thayer Street property owners have noticed a “decline in the street” in recent years, including the increasing number of vacancies and rapid turnover of tenants, Rider said. She added that one cause of these trends might have been the construction of Providence Place Mall, which diverted customers away from independent retailers on the street.

Some Thayer Street business owners said they look forward to the upcoming improvements.

Andy Mitrelis, the owner of Thayer Street restaurants Paragon/Viva and Andreas and co-owner of the newly opened sports bar Spats, said he believes the changes will “improve the image of Thayer Street immensely.”

Jagdish Sachdev, the owner of Spectrum India, a Thayer Street boutique, said the improvements will help everybody on the street.

“The more attractive it is, the more it will draw people to the street,” he said.

Sachdev said the TSID has “a pretty good plan developed,” adding he believes the renovations will definitely improve the street.

“People will enjoy walking on the street, it will become a destination, and people will come to just stroll and window shop,” he said.

Gray Horan, co-owner of Beadworks, said the renovations are “a step in the right direction.”

“Thayer Street is such an important street in Providence to a number of different institutions, and it’s nice that a lot of attention is being placed on the look of the street,” she added. “The aesthetic look and feel of a shopping environment is very important.”

But Ann Dusseauot, owner of Pie in the Sky, offered a more skeptical take on the improvements, saying such changes have been discussed for years but that “nothing ever developed.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she added.

If improvements are made, Dusseauot said more street illumination would help with safety and vandalism issues on the street. She called graffiti a “constant” problem on the street, adding she has had graffiti scratched into her store’s window.

Some merchants said they fear the street is becoming less unique. Sachdev supports the renovations, but he expressed concerns that the street is “becoming more and more food, more and more restaurants,” a trend that does not represent the “best use of the street.”

“There should be more boutiques and specialty stores on the street,” he said.

Al Read, owner of Nice Slice Pizzeria, agreed.

“I came here to be a part of a multicultural situation that seems to be dwindling,” he said. He added that he believes the street is becoming “homogenized” and that “anything with personality ends up leaving.”

Rider said there are “many wonderful restaurants on Thayer Street” and stressed the importance of having a diverse pool of businesses in the area in order to preserve its “funky character.”