University News

Construction may bring hotel, landscaping

Attendants of planning meeting stressed more variation of businesses on Thayer

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Friday, September 13, 2013

New landscaping and greater variation of businesses including a hotel are among the changes Thayer Street stakeholders are considering in their effort to spruce up the well-known street.

Under new proposals, Thayer Street could receive a facelift featuring new building guidelines, a hotel and beautification projects as stakeholders consider a variety of proposals to reinvigorate the area’s landscape and culture while preserving its character. 

Attendees of a public meeting held in June to review the Thayer Street Planning Study expressed an interest in introducing a greater variety of businesses to the area, said Bonnie Nickerson, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Development.

Concerns from stakeholders that the development at 257 Thayer St. — where Gilbane Development Company began building a luxury apartment complex for students earlier this year — commenced without sufficient input led the city to have “a more proactive approach” to this planning study, said Emily Kish, principal planner for the department.

As the city begins the process of revising its zoning codes, the department is considering how “to incorporate those guidelines” into new designs for the study area, Nickerson said. Plans for restricting building heights, defining features of building facades and specifying floor dimensions for street-level shops and restaurants will take into account the possibility of new retail and commercial establishments coming to the area, as well as the need to retain “the character of the surrounding area,” Kish said.

Several stakeholders — including the Thayer Street District Management Authority and the Providence Preservation Society — named maintaining Thayer Street’s legacy as a mixed-use residential space a critical goal.

Robin Remy, executive director of the TSDMA, said board members are under the impression that people “want (Thayer Street) to be pretty much what it’s always been – a mixed-use space.” Previous proposals included adding significant amounts of office space, but Remy said the group has since “determined that there isn’t a huge need for that” because there is so much nearby.

Thayer has “trended towards being a giant food court,” Remy said, but solving this problem is “a big nut to crack.” The group must first understand what led the “food court” to develop before surveying what people want and then acting accordingly, Remy said.

“All of these things take a lot of time and money,” she added.

Economic incentives may be one factor contributing to the development of so many restaurants on Thayer Street, Remy said — venues with food or liquor licenses tend to pay higher rents and are therefore more desirable than retail stores.

The University would like to see “successful and diverse retail” on Thayer Street, said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and Univeristy relations.

Though “Brown is already a significant property owner on Thayer Street,” the University is interested in supporting the “character development” of the area, Quinn said. She did not elaborate on whether Brown is actively trying to obtain more property.

The University will soon hold a campus-wide forum to gather input from students and faculty to ensure that the entire Brown community’s views are represented at the stakeholder meeting.

“Renovations are definitely something that I would look forward to,” said Kevin Argueta ’17, adding that “college students would definitely appreciate” a broader diversity of commercial offerings. “(The area’s) identity would grow,” Argueta said.

“I want to see more diversity,” said Ziwei Tang ’16, but she noted that Thayer Street “(does) have a lot of great food.”

The introduction of new shops “could help the economy as a whole” and may “attract a different consumer base and maybe a different demographic,” said Harrison Liftman ’16.

But Shelley Gresko ’14 said she “(sees) nothing wrong with it the way it is” and is indifferent to the introduction of different commercial offerings. “I don’t think (having so many restaurants on Thayer Street is) a good or a bad thing,” Gresko said, adding that the University’s proximity to Providence Place Mall makes shops on Thayer Street unnecessary.

The construction of a hotel on Brook Street will also be considered as part of an effort to broaden the appeal of the Thayer Street area by bringing higher-end retail businesses and consumers to the area. It has “been acknowledged as something that is wanted” by members of the community, said Ed Bishop ’54 P’86 P’91, chair of the Thayer Street District Management Authority and board member of the College Hill Neighborhood Association. Bishop owns properties in the area and is spearheading the luxury hotel project.

The hotel was incorporated in earlier planning proposals as a potential addition to the area, but the plan must receive more commentary from stakeholders and individuals at the public meeting before it can receive final approval, Bishop said. This project, as well as the other proposals for redeveloping Thayer Street, are progressing but are “in limbo,” Bishop said.

The first of the “seasonal parklets” — small greenspaces adjacent to sidewalks — proposed by the TSDMA and its design consultants are slated to be placed in front of the Brown Bookstore later this fall or in the spring, Nickerson said. The streetside parks are among other proposed aesthetic changes to the area, such as planting trees and adding new trash receptacles, Kish said.

Though previous proposals identified maintaining the historic architecture of Thayer Street as a priority to bolster the area’s appeal, the Providence Preservation Society does not have much information about the history of Thayer Street architecture. The group would need to conduct an architectural survey in which a historian goes building by building to generate notes on defining features, ownership history and streetscape, said Karen Jessup, interim director of the Providence Preservation Society.

All of these landscaping recommendations are part of the process of readying Thayer Street to potentially have more high-end stores and make it more of a destination for residents and visitors to “shop and stroll.” The TSDMA is also open to bringing events like farmers’ markets or festivals to attract consumers to Thayer, Remy said.

Incorporating newer retail and commercial options into the future of the area is still being considered by stakeholders on the steering committee, said President of the College Hill Neighborhood Association Allison Spooner. The College Hill Neighborhood Association is “pleased with the process at this point” and is preparing to review the proposals at the next meeting, Spooner said.

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