Metro, University News

City approves Thayer apartments

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Providence City Plan Commission approved final plans Tuesday for 257 Thayer Street, a luxury student apartment complex slated for construction in June 2013, the Providence Journal reported.

The four-story complex is expected to house 270 tenants — mostly students — in furnished apartments with single bedrooms, private bathrooms and living rooms featuring big screen televisions, The Herald previously reported. The apartments are a project of Gilbane Development Corporation, chaired by Robert Gilbane ’71 P’02 P’05.

The apartments will rent for about $1,000 to $1,400 per month, Gilbane told The Herald last March. The complex will replace most of the current buildings on the block of Thayer Street bounded by Meeting Street, Euclid Avenue and Brook Street — nine houses including Squires Salon and Sahara Hookah Bar, The Herald previously reported.

When the plan was initially proposed last year, some community members expressed concerns that the complex would be too intrusive and closed off from the neighborhood instead of being incorporated into the street’s current architecture, The Herald reported. The final plans include a courtyard that opens onto Brook Street, instead of the original closed-courtyard design, The Herald reported.

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

  1. Gilbane originally told the public that apartment rents would range between $1,000 to $1,400 per bed and that the building would pay full taxes. But at a November 20, 2102 hearing before the City’s Ways and Means Committee, one of Gilbane’s lawyers — seeking a long-term tax discount for the building and low building tax appraisal — said that rents might be as low as $850 per bed. The Committee was informed that Brown charges a minimum of $900 per bed for its own dorm housing. The meeting was reported by the Providence Journal on page A5 in its Nov. 22, 2012 issue. I attended the meeting.

    In the view of many in the local community, this proposed building is a terrible project, correctly rejected by the BDH editors, and which will permanently harm much of the remaining historic character of the area.

    • Though I’m sensitive to architectural conservation in Providence, it’s a bit of a stretch to argue this portion of Thayer Street has “historic character” that will be “permanently harmed” by this project.

      A medium density residential building on Thayer will improve pedestrian traffic, safety, and the commercial viability of small businesses on the street.

      Yes. Without a compelling case that the project can only be made viable with a long-term tax discount, the city should demand full property taxes from the developer/landlord.

    • It really doesn’t matter how much Gilbane charges. High density student housing is exactly what you need to start fixing up College Hill and the East Side. Right now, too many buildings (architecturally more interesting than these Brook street ones) sit in disrepair. Landlords won’t update their properties as the current zoning would obligate them to do things like get rid of all the parking they provide in order to be up to the current code. Allowing this type of zoning for 257 Thayer is the first step in a long overdue overhaul of College Hill.

      As far as the character of the area, the buildings on brook have been remodeled and subdivided past recognition or historical value. They’re stained with beer, teen spirit, and desperation. These houses also find themselves surround on all sides by non-residential zones. On all sides its either institutional or commercial zoning. These house actually no longer fit in the area which you speak of.

      Having more high density housing near commercial zones like Thayer is not only appropriate but better for students. With more supply in the market, the dynamics in the market will change in the student’s favor. So what if only rich kids can afford to live in 257 Thayer? That’s less rich kids bidding up rents to the same apartments as everyone else in other parts. Hopefully the seven or so college hill landlords (or slumlords depending how you see things) will start improving their properties in response.

      • Yes. In fact, in addition to embracing the 257 project for the reasons ‘Housing’ identifies, residents interested in the architectural character of the East Side and of Thayer Street should be encouraged.

        Within the next five or ten years, Brown will have to address the fate of architecturally unattractive and incongruous residences like Perkins Hall, the various Pembroke dorms, and the New Pembroke complex that occupies a substantial frontage on Thayer Street.

        The university’s residential capacity is already under great pressure. When the lifespan of existing facilities ends, the university can either refurbish those existing buildings in-place, working piecemeal over the summer months, with the aim of displacing as few students as possible. Or, if there is capacity to house displaced students off campus, the university can demolish and rebuild on existing sites.

        Building on existing sites gives Brown the chance to increase its residential capacity by adding beds and allows for enlightened architectural choices to be made. (Replacing the old swimming facility with the Nelson Fitness Center, for example, certainly improved the East Side’s architectural character.) The prospect of replacing some dorms at Brown should be encouraging to College Hill residents.

        These sorts of grand projects, however, are logistically impossible without some housing options near campus (both university owned and privately owned) that can accommodate temporarily displaced students.

  2. The building will have 268 beds.

  3. Before you dismiss the historic damage that this project will cause, read the lengthy and thoughtful report by historic preservationist Richard C. Youngken, which was submitted to the City Plan Commission last year. As Youngken documented, the building will destabilize the historic character of the surrounding area.

    How this building would improve safety escapes me. If the wealthiest students are known to be living there, then don’t they and their friends become easy targets for street criminals? If you want improved student safety, put the building on campus.

    • I haven’t read the Youngken report. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

      The safety outcome is speculative, but not unprecedented. It’s well studied that when commercial and retail districts introduce mixed-use buildings that include a permanent residential component, the character of the neighborhood becomes less transient. Criminals are deterred because potential victims end up being less anonymous and less isolated. In concrete terms, with more people – students in particular – living on Thayer, Brown Police and Providence Police will have justification to maintain a greater presence.

      This project seems like a healthy way to bring sophisticated street life (and spending money) to Thayer Street in a city that sometimes finds it a challenge to attract those things.

      • Daniel Moraff says:

        What does “sophisticated” mean? What is it exactly about Providence that is not “sophisticated”? Could you list the neighborhoods of Providence from most to least sophisticated?

        • StayOffTheNews says:

          Sophisticated, it means exactly what the government wants you to think it means, or are you skeptical of that too?

        • Anonymous says:

          Holy crap. It’s a gentle way of saying people who have cash to spend on the street at its restaurants and shops. Do you want more Taco Bell and Store 24? Or, do you want more niche retailers and interesting dining options to thrive. The more unique the shopping and eating, the more Thayer becomes a magnate and a destination for city residents and visitors. Take your pick.

      • Agreed. I’d also add that the inevitable commercial spillover towards Brook will also aid maintaining pedestrian safety in the area. Currently the crime that occurs in the area is that of opportunity by those from outside the neighborhood. With a more active street (high density housing, and commercial mixed use) these muggings simply can’t take place without witnesses. Currently, the crime happens on a relatively sleepy and deserted area of Brook for this reason.

  4. If anybody thinks this building is going to come even close to a sell out, I have a bridge over the Providence River for sale. Priced to move!

    • It’s a rental. If the expected demand won’t reach proforma occupancy and revenue targets, it won’t be built. Looks like they’re testing the waters by floating proposed rental rates ranging from $900-$1,400. Seems that they’ve got some leeway if it ends up not being fully occupied. How much for the bridge?

  5. Daniel Moraff says:

    Putting aside the aesthetic problems (which totally exist), are there actually two hundred Brown students who’d pay four hundred dollars a month above market value for this sort of thing? That’d be a pretty serious badge of shame for a chunk of the student body.

    I’d trust the developer knew what they were doing if luxury housing developers in Providence hadn’t gotten it consistently wrong over the past couple decades.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not sure where this one’s heading, but sure. 60 of them alone live in Buxton. How could paying more for better accommodation be a badge of shame? There is no “market value” for this type of accommodation b/c comparable properties just don’t exist on College Hill. Is eating at restaurants or food trucks shamefully profligate when students have meal plan at the same time? Is going to a private college shamefully profligate instead of a state school? And on it goes…

      • Daniel Moraff says:

        I mean, maybe there are enough people. I honestly don’t know. Putting aside the fact that a bunch of us straight up can’t afford this, conspicuous consumption really isn’t our game. Maybe those two hundred kids are out there, but I’d be…surprised.

        • Bruno_West says:

          The article quotes the rent estimates from March 2012. At recent meetings with the City Planning Commission, Gilbane stated that the average rent would be closer to $850 including utilities. Who knows what the actual rent will end up being but for new construction, fully furnished rooms, $850 a month including utilities does not seem deserving of the “conspicuous consumption” tagline. I imagine the market will decide if the rent is too high or not. If it does, this should make it easier to find all those deep pocketed Brown students so deserving of public scorn.

        • You have no grip on reality if you go to Brown and you honeslty think there arent at least 200 kids who can’t afford to pay $1.5k/month on luxury housing. Maybe you belong at a differnt school.

  6. You guys can pontificate this as much as you want. No one cares. The bottom line is that Brown can’t house all its students and therefore off-campus students are forced to live further away from campus. This project will bring a lot of rooms closer to the action. And if you think they are going to rent for sub $1k you are out of your mind. This is a new building in the perfect location. Some can afford to pay $1.5 – $2k per month for these place and therefore they will pay that. People who can’t afford those prices won’t live there. Simple as that. I don’t see what the problem is.

  7. Corinna D. Carmack says:

    I guess 1,000- $1,400 for studetns is a bit pricey already. I wont be able to afford myself in that place paying my way to college and paying for my pad. thanks!

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at