Brook Street may see new hotel

By
City & State Editor
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A proposal for a $35 million luxury hotel near campus was shot down in 2004 and 2008, but real estate developer Ed Bishop ’54 P’86 P’91 thinks his latest bid for the hotel will fare differently.

Bishop, who owns many properties on Providence’s East Side and has strong family ties to the University, first went public in 2004 with his idea to build the hotel on property he owns on Brook Street, between Meeting and Cushing streets. At that time, neighborhood opposition sidelined the plan. When Bishop again tried to move forward on the proposed hotel in 2008, tepid support from then-Mayor David Cicilline ’83 and vocal opposition at a hearing in April that year tabled the proposal.

But Providence’s struggling economy and increased support from city administrators mean plans for the hotel are now more viable. Bishop said he is not sure whether to lease the property’s houses, which sit on the land slated for the hotel, to students for next year.

“If anyone doesn’t want a $35 million investment in jobs and the tax base, then they haven’t figured out where Providence is,” Bishop said. He added he believes many College Hill residents who were adamantly opposed to the hotel in 2004 and 2008 have since moved out of the neighborhood.

The project’s backers are currently conducting a market study to determine the demand for hotel accommodation and estimate appropriate room rates. The study — being overseen by the Pinnacle Advisory Group, a large hospitality consulting firm based in Boston — will be completed by the end of October. Bishop said he will use the study’s findings to line up investors for the venture and then plans to seek neighborhood input on the proposal.

The hotel would feature 100 to 150 rooms at rates of $159 to $179 per night, retail space on its first floor and a parking facility.

“There’s no place to stay on College Hill,” Bishop said. He hopes the hotel will cater both to parents seeking to stay near their children and to Brown’s academic departments, which lack sufficient space on campus to hold conferences.

While the University conditionally supports the hotel, the plan still requires a zoning change and must overcome a history of neighborhood opposition.

“If this could be done in a way that makes sense to the community and makes sense to developers, we would certainly be in favor of it,” said Dick Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president.

In order to permit commercial development on the land, Bishop must have the change approved by either the Providence Zoning Board or the City Council.

The land is currently zoned for residential use, according to Robert Azar, director of current planning for Providence. Hotel developers would either have to obtain a variance from the Zoning Board stating the land has been deprived of value due to its current zoning classification or would have to gain the City Council’s approval to grant the land the same commercial zoning that exists on Thayer Street. The City Council resolution would require the mayor’s signature.

Bishop has yet to formally initiate either of these processes, but he said he plans to submit a resolution to the City Council. “There has been support from the city,” Bishop said, adding that he met to discuss the subject with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in January and with President Ruth Simmons when he began formally planning the hotel two years ago.

A spokesman for Taveras declined to comment.

The planned hotel faces a history of neighborhood opposition. Bishop said roughly 100 people turned out to oppose the hotel when a public hearing was held on the issue in April 2008. In 2004, the College Hill Neighborhood Association, of which Bishop has been a member for two decades, voted 6-2 to oppose a similar plan. At a Providence Planning Department meeting in August of that year, Bishop received little support from residents, who argued that the hotel would push college students currently living on the property into surrounding neighborhoods and attract unwanted traffic.

A representative from the College Hill Neighborhood Association declined to comment on the issue until additional progress has been made on plans for the hotel and a public hearing has been scheduled.

Bishop has also approached Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier about the hotel, which would be located in his ward. When they spoke six months ago, Zurier told Bishop that he would only vote for the zoning change if the neighborhood supported the hotel. Though Zurier said he is unsure whether Bishop has the votes to pass the measure, the change could be enacted in as little as a month.

Bishop said the hotel’s developers are looking to the Study at Yale, a hotel near the New Haven university’s campus, as a model for the Providence hotel. Paul McGowan, a managing member at the Study, is a prospective partner in the East Side hotel venture, Bishop said.

Bishop was inspired to build a hotel near Brown’s campus when he visited Dartmouth nearly 50 years ago. “I saw the Hanover Inn at Dartmouth and said ‘Brown needs that,'” Bishop said. “But it took me an extra 50 years of working to make enough money to do it.”

Bishop said the hotel’s name is still undecided. Calling it Bishop’s Inn is an option, but Bishop said he does not want to make himself the focus of public scrutiny. “The Study at Brown is a possible name,” he said.