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Historic facade faces demolition downtown

The historic facade of the Providence National Bank, standing at 35 Weybosset St., could soon be demolished and replaced with a temporary parking lot, pending the city's approval.

In a meeting Monday night, the Downcity Design Review Committee, part of city's Department of Planning and Development, heard a request from developer Jeremiah O'Connor to tear down the facade, but decided to postpone its decision, said Jef Nickerson, president of Greater City Providence, a Web site that promotes the city's growth and development.

Nickerson, who attended the meeting, said many community members expressed support for preserving the building's facade at the meeting. If the committee rejects the request, the facade will have to be incorporated into future plans for the site.

The city's director of planning and development Tom Deller said in a Nov. 4 Providence Business News article that he predicted that the committee would sanction the request to demolish the facade provided the owner do additional landscaping on the site.
Officials from the planning department could not be reached for comment.

Jesse Polhemus, a Providence resident who has advocated for preserving the facade, said that apart from destroying another historic building, the proposal will only add to an increasing number of temporary parking lots in the downtown area.

"The surface parking lots have become a big issue," he said. "We have a right to say we deserve a real building (instead of another parking lot)."

Nickerson has also observed this trend, adding that in the most recent development boom there has been an alarming "smattering of demolitions" to make space for buildings that never materialized. 

The facade, which was built in the 1950s, is the last remnant of three buildings, including the Providence National Bank and the First Federal Bank, which were demolished in 2005 to make way for the One Ten Westminster Street residential tower. 

The tower, which would have been the tallest building in Rhode Island, was designed to incorporate the standing facade. But following the real estate market crash, the proposal for One Ten was scaled back and eventually fell through.

According to a city ordinance, developers are allowed to request temporary parking lots for two years on unused property and then request an extension. But, Nickerson said, "none of these temporary parking lots have ever been temporary."

The result, he added, is that developers demolish buildings with proposals of raising new structures but "what was proposed is never built." Instead the developers later retract their plans and install "temporary" parking lots. 

Rep. David Segal, D-Dist. 2, proposed a bill in April to create demolition bonds that would require developers to set aside money which would only be returned once the project was completed. This proposal would have provided an incentive to developers to follow through with their projects instead of creating temporary parking lots.

While Segal's legislation did not pass, "something like the demolition bond gives the city another tool " to end the parking lot trend, Nickerson said.

"There's no need for that much parking," he said. "There is this perception that there is this parking crisis in the city, but it's only a perception."


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