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Developers showcase Downcity revitalization

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City of Providence - David N. Cicilline, Mayor

November 4, 2003

For Immediate Release

Contact: Karen Southern, Press Secretary - (401) 421-2489 x752

[email protected]



Nearly $130 Million in Construction Underway in Providence Right Now

Providence - Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline announced today the City

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It is great to keep watching Providence's comeback. I would like to see more trains between Boston and Providence so it would be easier to travel back and forth. The two cities compliment each other, and with Boston being so expensive, Providence is becoming a really appealing alternative to urban living outside Boston, but in close proximity.

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I've been going to Boston quite frequently for meetings for work lately and the train is not quite as good as it could be. It's better than it was a few years ago, but there's no midday sevice so if I have a morning meeting I can't leave Boston until 3:50pm. Or if I have an afternoon meeting the last train that gets there in the morning is around 11am. There are a lot of other trains that end in Attleboro, so if I had a car I could leave from there, but not having a car is the whole reason I take the train. There are some Amtraks that fill in the gaps and are faster than the Commuter Rail, but they are also more expensive. There's also Bonanza buses that I think run hourly, but they are often delayed by traffic and at the Providence end you have to catch a shuttle from Kennedy Plaza to the Bonanza terminal which is time consuming and quite annoying.

There are more and more people moving to Providence who commute to Boston. Lots of people who work in the Longwood Medical Area take the train from Providence to Ruggles. A lot of the Downcity apartment development is geared toward these people who work in Boston, but don't want to pay to live there. The train is a little over or under an hour depending on if it is express or local, so the commute isn't that bad as long as your destination is near one of the Boston commuter rail stations, having to hop the T out to Cambridge or something of course would add to the commuting time.

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Developers showcase Downcity revitalization

Businessmen and politicians celebrate with champagne and promises of a lively district of homes and shops.

BY GREGORY SMITH Journal Staff Writer

Friday, December 5, 2003

PROVIDENCE -- In the dimness of Westminster Street, a happy crowd gathered last night to celebrate progress in the rejuvenation of Downcity.

Developers and businesspeople showed off some of the residential and retail spaces they have created in the long-neglected, 19th-century buildings that used to constitute Providence's central shopping district.

Downcity appears to be on its way to becoming a lively mix of homes, offices and specialty retail shops.

While it was dark for the festivities, developer Robert Kuehn promised that in a year's time the street would be aglow with Christmas lights.

Kuehn has teamed up with developer Arnold A. "Buff" Chace and others to build what they call an "urban village" consisting of 225 apartments and condominiums, and about 47,900 square feet of retail and office space.

In remarks to the crowd, they stood in front of one of the biggest building blocks of their effort, the former Peerless store, which is about to receive a $33-million reconstruction.

The building block actually is a cluster of five to seven structures, depending on how the walls are traced, that includes the Low Building and buildings that housed the Peerless and Woolworth department stores.

A former tenant at the Peerless, Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, held what was billed as its last rock concert Wednesday night. Lupo's will hold future concerts at The Strand nightclub.

The construction of 97 loft apartments, 28,000 square feet of retail space and 68 basement parking spaces are planned in the Peerless cluster.

To mark the occasion, Chace and Mayor David N. Cicilline pried open a bottle of champagne, sending the cork pinging off a light stanchion.

On display, too, were parts of the Burgess/O'Gorman Buildings and the Wilkinson Building across the street, which are being rehabilitated for 25 loft apartments.

Some of the light on the street spilled out of a new cafe, tazza, and a new shop, Symposium Books. Down nearby blocks there were open houses at The Space at Alice Gallery; G Media & Associates, the recently fitted-out offices of a TV-production company; Lumiere Salon; and Garrison Confections.

When Downcity is reborn, "This is going to be the dropoff point for people from all over the world," declared City Council President John J. Lombardi.

From The Providence Journal

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This is an interesting project. I would love to live there. I love how they can't tell exactly how many buildings already exsist!

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Providence is such an interesting place now. Next summer I'm gonna bring my bike down and ride around DT. IMO it's the best way to see a city.

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Five buildings may give way to garage

The Downcity District Design Review Committee appears receptive to Arnold A. "Buff" Chace's plans for a parking garage.

BY GREGORY SMITH - Thursday, December 11, 2003

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- What remains of an early 19th-century merchant's house is among the five buildings to be razed for a Downcity parking garage.

But city planners and the Providence Preservation Society have concluded that the buildings are historically insignificant.

The top of what once was merchant Stephen Waterman's Federal-style house is visible from the street, poking above the facade of a closed Dunkin' Donuts store at 179 Weybosset St.

Built in 1823, the three-story house was converted to commercial use in 1881, and its third story was lopped off in the 20th century. It is so degraded by now that historical-resource surveys say it does not contribute to the Downtown National Register Historic District.

Developer Arnold A. "Buff" Chace and two partners have proposed clear-cutting most of the block bounded by Weybosset, Union, Westminster and Clemence Streets in order to build a 450-car garage.

They would also put up two buildings -- one at either end of the garage on Weybosset and Westminster Streets -- that would house 6,200 square feet of ground-floor retail and a maximum of 30 residential units.

The eight-level garage and the six-story retail/residential buildings would be about the same height after varying floor-to-ceiling clearances.

Chace and two relatives, his cousin Malcolm "Kim" Chace, and Malcolm Chace's wife Elizabeth, formed City Lofts LLC to acquire the site for the project, which is expected to cost $25 million to $30 million, and to apply for city permission to tear down the buildings.

The Downcity District Design Review Committee, which will ask advice from the Historic Districts Commission, is considering the request.

"It's great. The scheme looks good," said Guy Abelson, committee chairman.

The committee, of which Elizabeth Chace is a member, held a public hearing on it Monday. Elizabeth Chace excused herself from the matter.

The Chaces want the garage primarily to serve a fledgling residential/ retail/office community that they and other civic interests are nurturing in order to preserve and reuse the half-empty buildings of Downcity.

Of the 450 parking spaces to be available in the garage, Arnold Chace said approximately 200 would be dedicated to the buildings that he and partners are rehabilitating.

The balance would be open to the public, such as patrons of the Providence Performing Arts Center, he said.

Right now, Arnold Chace said last week, there is insufficient demand for parking spaces to justify construction of a garage but when all his projects are completed and as other redevelopment occurs in Downcity, the parking capacity will be needed.

In addition to the Stephen Waterman House, the buildings to be taken down house the current headquarters of Travelers Aid Society of Rhode Island, which is relocating, and used to house a Sackett's card shop, a Dunkin' Donuts and Mama's Metro Cafe.

At the corner of Westminster and Union Streets, a structure that for years was a People's Bank and currently houses a Christmas store, Craftland, would go, too.

Also affected would be Two Brothers Beauty Supply, which has a storefront on Westminster that Chace said is part of the Travelers Aid building. Built in 1949, the building that houses Travelers Aid used to be a W.T. Grants department store.

The buildings to be demolished are "not significant enough" to be saved at the cost of doing without a needed parking garage that would serve new residents and help to attract visitors, said Catherine A. Horsey, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society.

After seeing the conceptual design for the garage and the two bookend buildings, the Planning and Architectural Review Committee of the Preservation Society said the structures' scale and massing are appropriate.

But the committee said the mercantile feeling of the proposed Weybosset facade might not befit a building that will be primarily residential. And the committee urged the developer to find a way to make the garage expanse along Union a more lively pedestrian experience.

Travelers Aid won't be able to move until at least next summer, but Chace wants to begin demolition even before then. He would have the Stephen Waterman House and the former Dunkin' Donuts, Mama's Metro and Sackett's buildings taken down before then.

The only structure that would remain standing on the block is the Roger Williams Building at 270 Westminster, which real-estate investor Stanley Weiss has owned for the past 10 years.


Rendering courtesy of Imai Keller Mooore Architects

GRAND PLAN: The Chace parking garage project, shown in this architect's rendering, would include retail and residential space at Westminster and Weybosset Streets.

The five-story building contains offices and, on the ground floor, New Image apparel. Dating to 1893, the building was a bank, and the vault is still in the basement.

In order to incorporate the building into his plans, Chace tried to buy it from Weiss. Weiss, who said he wants to pass the building on to his children, said the best he would do is allow Chace a 99-year lease. Chace did not take up that offer.

"That building will be a beautiful professional building again," Weiss said last week. "When the future looks bright for the building, why sell it?"

Chace has asked the city to widen the one-way Union for two-way traffic in conjunction with the garage project, and city officials are receptive to the idea. With the garage entrance planned for Union, he wants to avoid congestion, and he is willing to give up some property to accommodate the widening.

The change would be coordinated with a pending traffic recirculation plan that would make Empire and Weybosset Streets two-way, just as Washington Street was returned to its previous two-way flow last year.

The garage entrance would be on a side street, in compliance with city regulations for Downcity. Some parking experts contend that garage patronage would be hurt unless it has frontage on a main street, but Chace said its lack of visibility can be overcome with well-placed signs.

He warned, however, that the garage won't be viable as a business unless Weybosset is made two-way.

Waving a red flag, the Preservation Society committee expressed concern about the fate of the police substation on Weybosset at Mathewson Street if Weybosset is made two-way.

The 90-year-old building, which has elaborate cast-iron trim, contributes to the integrity of the historic district, and close analysis is needed to determine if it can coexist with a reconfiguration of the traffic flow, the committee said.

From The Providence Journal

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Townhouses proposed for downtown

The $10-million townhouse project was presented to the Downcity District Design Review Committee this month.

December 30, 2003


Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- Churchill & Banks, a local real-estate development company, plans to build eight townhouses embracing a courtyard on what is now a parking lot behind the former Coastway Credit Union headquarters on Greene Street.

The courtyard configuration, sometimes called a mews, is a first-of-its-kind proposal for downtown, according to Christopher J. Is

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Planners focus on vision for Downcity

A Florida town planner will lead a weeklong series of sessions to determine the number ofresidents Downcity needs if it is to thrive.


Journal Staff Writer - Thursday, March 4, 2004


Journal file photo

Designers, architects, city planners, and residents will look at ways of linking the Washington Street corridor with the rest of downtown to make it more attractive to downtown residents.

PROVIDENCE -- When developer Arnold B. "Buff" Chace began his quest in the 1990s to resuscitate Downcity, it was widely thought that 200 housing units would be the minimum necessary to create a neighborhood.

With the transformation of Downcity from a moribund business district to a lively mixed-use neighborhood under way, Chace now has a greater ambition. He wants to shoot for 500 housing units.

He recently said his "gut" tells him that 500 would be an ideal foundation for a vibrant, sustainable neighborhood.

Whether his gut is right might be answered in a Downcity charette scheduled to begin today under the direction of Andres Duany, the acclaimed town planner from Florida who led two previous charettes on Downcity.

Participants in the weeklong charette will attempt to fix a number on how many units -- and thus, how many residents -- Downcity needs to thrive.

The charette, entitled Connecting and Completing Downcity, will tackle a variety of issues, including how to better link Downcity to the rest of downtown and to adjacent neighborhoods. A focus will be the Washington Street corridor.

A charette is an intensive planning session in which designers and architects, municipal planners, representatives of various interest groups and residents collaborate in formulating a vision for development.

Chace is teamed up with Robert Kuehn, a developer from Cambridge, Mass., and others to build an "urban village" on Westminster Street consisting of 225 apartments and condominiums, about 47,900 square feet of retail and office space, and a parking garage. Construction of most of those housing units is complete or partially complete.

Both men are historical preservationists intent on rehabilitating the district's 19th-century mercantile buildings for residential and commercial purposes. They have been striving to accommodate a critical mass of residents necessary to support retail stores, cafes and restaurants.

Two hundred housing units still appears to be the figure necessary "to get a sufficient organism going," Chace said. When it comes to repopulating Downcity, however, "the more the better," he added.

Although Chace now wants to shoot for 500 units, he said he is not sure so many can be squeezed into Downcity, which is the area bounded by Sabin, Empire, Weybosset and Dorrance Streets.

A charette held in 1994, he recalled, found that 19 buildings were available that could accommodate 500 units. But some of those buildings have been knocked down or devoted to other purposes.

Duany was scheduled to arrive yesterday for briefings by Chace, municipal planners and others. An opening presentation featuring Duany and Mayor David N. Cicilline is scheduled to run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. today in the Rotunda Room on the top floor of the Rhode Island Convention Center.

He is known as a New Urbanist; he espouses development utilizing the architecture and street patterns of traditional village centers.

As an alternative to suburban sprawl, Duany promotes the idea that cities can be redevolped to hold and rebuild their populations by using a village-center concept that allows people to live, work and play in proximity.

A "pin-up review" at which preliminary design sketches, maps and other plans will be put on display is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. this Sunday on the third floor of the Earle Building, 56 Washington St.

A closing presentation is set for 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 11, in the Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor of the Providence Biltmore hotel.

The public is invited to those meetings.

Throughout the week there will be sessions to which specific people, such as Downcity "stakeholders" and financiers, are invited.

Chace's company, Cornish Associates, is sponsoring the charette along with the city and the Providence Foundation.

The study area is a mile-long stretch of Washington Street, from College Hill, through Downcity and across Route 95 to Knight Street on Federal Hill. From east to west the swath to be discussed includes the Convention Center, the Dunkin' Donuts Center, LaSalle Square and the former police-fire headquarters, Cathedral Square and parts of Westminster Crossing.

Westminster Crossing is a term apparently coined by the administration of former Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. that encompasses the point where Westminster Street crosses Route 95 as well as a number of blocks on either side of the highway.

The time seems right, Chace said, to expand the vision for Downcity to allow for affordable housing to accommodate employees of the new and expanding businesses that civic leaders hope will uplift downtown in general.

Perhaps Providence needs a high-rise building containing affordable units on the Downcity side of Route 95, he said.

Chace and Kuehn have only a smattering of affordable units in their residential projects, most of which are apartment buildings. In time they intend to convert the apartments to condominiums. The understanding has been that in order to remake Downcity as a place to live, the developers must bring in people with enough disposable income to support cafes, restaurants and stores that can appeal to visitors, too.

The partners' long-range goal, Chace said, is to "make it feel safer, more appealing to a broader cross-section of the people living here in the city, and for visitors."

From The Providence Journal

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the downcity area has so many nice buildings. It could be a really great urban area if more people lived there, and the ground floor retail was a little stronger.

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Last night I attended a wrap-up of the week-long series of charrettes at The Providence Biltmore. Architect Andres Duany spoke and presented a slide show of some of the ideas that came out of the charrette. There were many stunning proposal renderings that Andres' team created of what could and should be done in and around Downcity Providence (if the renderings get online, I'll post some here).

His proposals included several towers along the Route 95 corridor west of Downcity. He also let the cat out of the bag on a project that the Westin is mulling, building a second tower at the hotel. I've heard from people at the Westin that they are indeed at the consideration stage of this.

Lots of the proposals centred around repurposing and reorienting public spaces to make the city flow better, and for it to be more inviting to visitors, both at the convention centre, and driving through on Route 95.

He hinted that many areas that he was highlighting for development already have developers interested. What is needed is to get the city to play ball, get over zoning hurdles, and orchestrate the development so that all the pieces can fall in place properly.

Two proposals that have very solid backing are a new Downcity movie theatre and a new Downcity market, both have New York City companies that are very interested in getting into Downcity Providence now, they just need the cities help to secure a location that makes sense.

It was all very very exciting, here is a Providence Journal article that outlines some of the proposals.

Planner has grand designs on Downcity

Andres Duany sums up the ideas from nine public workshops held over the past eight days.


Journal Staff Writer - Friday, March 12, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- About 500 people crowded the standing-room-only ballroom on the 17th floor of the Providence Biltmore hotel to see Andres Duany's vision for Downcity.

At the end of Duany's two-hour presentation -- complete with colorful renderings of future movie theaters, grocery stores and bridges -- Mayor David N. Cicilline declared the vision "doable."

Duany, an urban planner from Miami, spent one week in Providence leading a "charrette," an urban planning session. He drew the ideas from nine public workshops held over the past eight days. More than 1,200 people attended the sessions.

"You've all come up with your own solutions over the past week," Duany said. "I'm just giving them a voice."

Joshua Miller, owner of Trinity Brewhouse and president of the Downtown Merchants Association, said he liked what he saw, but had one concern.

"My fear is how much will be followed through," Miller said.

Here were Duany's suggestions:


"Right now, you really do need to be an expert to find parking," Duany said.

He pointed out that most of Downcity's parking lots branch off a little street called Snow Street. Proper signage would make those lots much easier to find, he said.

Duany said parking garages should be nestled in the newly uncovered space created by the relocation of Route 195. "It will be like taking off tight clothing. The city will grow," he said of the Route 195 space.

Duany also recommended creating a parking authority that will be responsible for an intelligent, comprehensive parking plan and the management of it.

Cathedral Square

"Cathedral Square is a disgrace," Duany said.

He'd like it torn up along with Bishop McVinney Auditorium and restored to its original state, which was a bow tie (Westminster and Weybosset converged and then traveled to the West Side as one street, splitting again into Westminster and Cranston Streets.)

Duany said he met with officials from the Providence Diocese and said they were open to the idea and they'd be happy to get rid of the auditorium.

Westminster West

Duany envisioned pedestrians walking over a Westminster Bridge that is lined with produce dealers or artists in stalls the size of one-car garages.

"Other cities would be afraid to do this," he said.

But he predicted Providence could do it, and do it cheaply. The already-oversized bridge would not need to be changed significantly.

Duany would like to see the west end of Westminster Street filled with first-floor retail shops and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. He suggested building residential/business townhouses that small developers could tackle.

Broadway bridge area

Duany recommended redesigning the bridge in concert with the Holiday Inn and a 22-story condominium on the site of the old gas station. The structures should complement one another, he said. He'd also like to see the Holiday Inn, the Dunkin' Donuts Civic Center and the Convention Center connected with one attractive facade.

La Salle Square

The urban planner, who is also an architect, chastised those who want to tear down the old police and fire station. "Clever surgery" could turn the site into a combination of retail stores, an office tower and parking garage.

"It's criminal to take down the work of others when it is so well done," he said to cheers.

Duany would like city planners to turn La Salle Square into a true square, with traffic flowing along its four sides.

He also had an idea to keep Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island in the city. One possibility is to give Blue Cross the decrepit Fogarty Building right next door so it could expand. But Duany said he'd prefer to give Blue Cross a city park right next to its building on Empire Street and the city could take ownership of the company's building in La Salle Square for other developments.

Emmit Square

Duany would also turn the intersection in front of The Providence Journal and Westin Hotel into a traditional square. He also suggested taking the small parking lot between The Providence Journal building and Fogarty building and making a small park, and building a parking garage on the Journal's Fountain Street lot across the street. As it stands, visitors inside the convention center lobby look down upon the two desolate parking lots that do little to invite them to explore Downcity, he said.

Duany suggested putting a bright, big-screen digital display on the corner of the new parking garage that would list all of the arts and entertainment events in the city. The sign would be visible from the Convention Center lobby.

"It would be irresistible," he said. "People are like moths. They are attracted to light."


Turn Weybosset Street into a two-way street, Duany said. The Providence Performing Arts Center would get a special dropoff lane and the comfort station could be relocated to La Salle Square. Duany pondered the idea of making a cobblestone plaza in front of PPAC that would slow traffic and make it more pedestrian friendly.

While Duany offered colorful renderings of all of his plans, the final designs would be determined by the government agencies, developers and residents.

Duany offered the vision; the rest is up to the city.

From The Providence Journal

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Downcity Providence still needs work, planner says

By Justin Elliott

Providence should consider bulldozing elements of I.M. Pei−designed Cathedral Square as part of a plan to "complete and connect" downcity Providence, according to urban planner Andres Duany.

Duany's presentation was the culmination of a week of nine public meetings and was held Thursday night in the Grand Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel with Mayor David Cicilline '83 in attendance. Duany took the stage in front of a capacity crowd in the 17th−floor room, which provided spectacular views of much of the city he proposed overhauling.

The meetings covered a range of topics on the future of the downcity area, which includes City Hall, Trinity Repertory Theater and the Biltmore Hotel

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Focus On Downcity

Providence, the Renaissance City

- By Laura Kline

The name evokes a rapid metamorphosis from a sleepy nowhere town one day to a thriving metropolis practically leaping off the map the next. However, a renaissance is often a much more gradual process. The original Italian Renaissance lasted for almost two centuries; Providence's rebirth may not take quite that long, but it is certainly more of an evolution than a revolution. Nowhere is this more evident than in Downcity, where the local renaissance first arrived over a decade ago. After years of slow trudging progress, Downcity may at last have begun its final sprint toward the finish line. Will it soon be transformed into the hip urban destination that has been imagined? Or is the current flurry of activity evidenced by the construction areas and grand openings only another small step along the road to success?

Defining Downcity

Downcity is Providence's original Central Business District, a National Register Historic District full of 19th century buildings that once composed the main shopping district in the city. It's geographical borders vary depending on the context; in general it's considered to be the area bordered by Fountain and Weybosset Streets to the north and south and Dorrance andEmpire Streets to the east and west, extending a bit into the Financial District east of Dorrance. In other words, it's not downtown; it's within downtown. Anthony Salemme, co-owner of Downcity Food + Cocktails on the corner of Weybosset and Eddy Streets, says "the term

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This is shocking.

The question is, where'd they get the money? Historic Tax Credits? Presevation societys revolving loan fund? REIDC? PEDP? Line paint can get expensive.

Cotuit be very careful, some of your comments might be construed as negative towards Cornish.

Did they stand you up on prom night or something?

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This is shocking.

The question is, where'd they get the money? Historic Tax Credits? Presevation societys revolving loan fund? REIDC? PEDP? Line paint can get expensive.

Cotuit be very careful, some of your comments might be construed as negative towards Cornish.

Did they stand you up on prom night or something?

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I'm thinking with the current credit and real estate market, that this has nothing and less than nothing to do with Weybosset becoming 2 way. I think Buff Chace deserves a little bit of good will (yea though I still weep for The Met and a decent Lupo's location), but this was pretty predictable once they started the "temp parking"

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I did.

They are putting in curbs and drainage and planting landscape. Looks like they are fixing to park cars there for a long time to come.

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When I walked by yesterday, they had paved the driving areas of the lot, and few spaces for HP parking. The rest of the parking spaces are still gravel. I will say this, as far as parking lots go, this is a good one. They are leaving part of it porous for draining, they have installed landscaping, they have kept part of it open as public space...

Now obviously I don't want a parking lot, and I'd still like better guarantees that things will be built before things are torn down. But I'd also like Buff to have a talk with TPG and school them on what the Public Safety Memorial Parking Lot should look like now.

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