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Arts center met with controversy from Providence locals

Vote on University’s proposal to be delayed until March 20 after request for continuance

The Providence City Plan Commission has moved the vote on the University’s plan to build a performing arts center — which has sparked controversy over the possibility of demolishing or moving five historic buildings  — to March 20, wrote Choyon Manjrekar, principal planner at Rhode Island’s department of planning and development, in an email to The Herald.

The vote was first scheduled for Dec. 19 and then moved to Jan. 16, according to a press release from Rhode Island Public Radio. However, the University requested a continuance to move the decision again to March, Manjrekar wrote.

At the December hearing, the public comments regarding the University’s proposal were “unanimous” in opposing the construction of the performing arts center, said Rachel Robinson, director of preservation at the Providence Preservation Society.

After listening to the public opinions, “it was clear that the proposal was not ready to be acted on at that meeting,” said Russell Carey '91 MA'06, executive vice president for planning and policy at the University. “We requested a continuance, which … means that that matter stays on the agenda.”

It is unclear whether or not the initial plans will change before the hearing in March. “I’m not saying that they haven’t changed or they have changed,” Carey said.

The possibility of demolishing or moving the historic buildings — all built in the 19th century — is one source of opposition. One of the buildings at risk of being demolished is the Urban Environmental Lab, a proposition that has seen opposition from students and faculty, The Herald previously reported.

The University could move the performing arts center to a similarly sized area that does not contain historic buildings, said Brent Runyon, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society. “There is a lot of vacant land across the river” that could be used for the performing arts center instead, he added.

The Providence Preservation Society named the five historic buildings proposed to be moved or demolished to the “2018 Most Endangered Properties List,” according to the Providence Journal.

Public commentary also revealed concern about parking and traffic, according to GoLocalProv.

But the University believes these concerns are not serious. The University is required to do a “parking and traffic impact study,” Carey said. “We’ve done (the study), and we feel that (the building) has minimal impact.”

Not everyone believes the plans to be detrimental. “The historic value of the buildings coming down is greatly exaggerated,” wrote Dietrich Neumann, professor of history of art and architecture and director of urban studies in an email to The Herald. “The buildings that came down to make room for the Engineering School on Manning Walk were actually much more valuable.”

The University’s plan to build a performing arts center is part of an amendment to the Institutional Master Plan that is filed with the city every five years, Carey said. The hearing for the amendment was pushed back to allow the University to provide more information on the proposal, wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.

“We’ve heard the community input and we’re reviewing that very carefully and evaluating options,” Carey said.


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