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Ryan T. Conaty for The New York Times Gtech, a lottery systems and services company, plans to build a new headquarters in downtown Providence.

New Momentum for Renewal Comes to Providence

By ELIZABETH ABBOTT

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Oct. 19 - This capital city, once the embodiment of urban decline, is about to write a new chapter in its story of renewal.

Gtech Holdings, the world's largest provider of lottery systems and services, plans to break ground later this year on an $88.5 million corporate headquarters in the Capital Center District, a 77-acre tract lying between the State House and the city's downtown core.

When it is finished, the project will bring more than 700 Gtech employees into Providence daily, providing another jolt of energy to the city. "It's fantastic," said Thomas Deller, director of planning and development for the city.

Gtech's move not only confirms how far Providence has come, but is also likely to spur more development in the Capital Center District, Mr. Deller said. That district, a mix of public and private space, has been key to the revival of Providence, but roughly a third of it still remains to be developed.

Gtech plans to build a 13-story, 210,000-square-foot building with retail space on the ground floor. It has chosen the USAA Real Estate Company of Texas, which has built facilities for I.B.M. and FedEx among other companies, and Commonwealth Ventures L.L.C. of Connecticut to jointly develop the project.

Providence is a good location for Gtech because of its proximity to the high-tech corridor surrounding Boston, offering a ready supply of qualified employees, said Robert Vincent, a company spokesman. Gtech currently has its headquarters in West Greenwich, R.I., a suburb about 20 miles south of Providence.

In fact, Gtech was seriously considering a site in Massachusetts for its new headquarters when officials from the state of Rhode Island and Providence came forward. The result was a package of tax breaks and other financial incentives worth more than $700 million to Gtech, including an exclusive no-bid contract to run Rhode Island's lottery system for the next 20 years. Without these concessions, Gtech would have left the state, Mr. Vincent said.

For its part, Gtech has agreed to invest $140 million in the state's lottery system and to give Providence residents preferential treatment in hiring, among other things. But judging by the enthusiasm that greeted Gtech's announcement in Rhode Island, and the speed with which the state's lawmakers approved the deal, the primary benefit of Gtech's move downtown appears to be psychological.

Although Providence calls itself the Renaissance City, momentum is needed to keep its renewal on track, and Gtech's vote of confidence in the city will help provide that, said Leslie A. Gardner, chairwoman of a commission that oversees development in the Capital Center District.

The district has almost 30 acres of public space. Of the 48 acres available for private development, roughly 18 acres are left. No corporation has built an office building in the city for 16 years. "I think Gtech will be a great catalyst for us," Ms. Gardner said.

Thirty years ago, the property that makes up the Capital Center District was a bleak area where commuters could park their cars for as little as $3.50 a day. Most of it belonged to the Providence and Worcester Railroad, a regional freight service whose origins date back to the mid-1800's. The P.& W. property had elevated train tracks that ran across the city, cutting off the commercial downtown area from the State House and surrounding government offices. So effective was this barrier that it was dubbed the Chinese Wall.

Then, as the story is told in "Providence, the Renaissance City" by two Rhode Island College professors, Francis J. Leazes Jr. and Mark T. Motte (Northeastern University Press, 2004), the larger history of transportation in the United States intervened in Providence's fate.

In 1976, spurred by energy worries and a significant increase in traffic on Interstate 95, the federal government made $1.6 billion available for railroad improvements in the Northeast Corridor. What Providence did with its share of the money was unique, according to the authors.

Instead of merely upgrading the city's tracks, a group of leaders convinced the federal government that it could dismantle the Chinese Wall and reroute the rails at no extra cost. Doing this enabled Providence to open up a vast area for development just north of the downtown, which eventually became the Capital Center District.

Specifically, 15 development parcels were created in this industrial wasteland at a total cost of roughly $169 million. "There was some very creative use of transportation money," said Deborah Melino-Wender, executive director of the 17-member Capital Center Commission.

The creativity continued in 1983, when shortly after construction began on the Capital Center District, federal money was again used for an innovative infrastructure project. This time, rivers were moved and a necklace of bridges and river walkways was created along their banks. Called Waterplace Park, this attraction has won national awards for its design and is now a popular destination for visitors. The park is also the site for a public art event called WaterFire. In WaterFire, created by the Providence artist Barnaby Evans, cauldrons of fires are lighted in the middle of the rivers as music is played. The fires lure thousands of people into the city; this is in sharp contrast to the gloomy emptiness that pervaded Providence after business hours in the 1970's and 1980's.

In all, more than $1 billion has been spent in private and public money on development projects in downtown Providence since 1980, according to Mr. Leazes and Mr. Motte. Larger projects have included the construction of the $450 million Providence Place Mall, an enclosed shopping center with more than a million square feet of retail space, which opened in 1999, and the 12-story $38 million Citizens Bank building, built in 1988.

Considering how depressed the city once was, "Providence is remarkable," said Mr. Vincent. Gtech's visitors, who come from all over the world, are invariably impressed when they see what the city has to offer, he said.

Gtech's tentative building plans include a glass tower, but the design must meet the approval of the Capital Center Commission, which has been praised for requiring developers to create projects compatible with surrounding buildings. The Gtech parcel, covering less than two acres, is strategically located at the intersection of two main thoroughfares, directly opposite the Providence Place Mall. The architect is Spagnolo/Gisness & Associates, which is based in Boston. Gtech hopes to break ground next month and complete the project in 2006.

None of this would have happened if Capital Center had not been created, according to the authors of "Providence, the Renaissance City." In essence, the project made the city bigger and enabled development to take place without having to demolish the city's many historically significant buildings. And Capital Center would not have happened without the participation of an unusual group of committed people from both the public and private sector, who put aside their different agendas for the sake of a city they shared.

"Not enough credit is given to the fact that the right people were in the right place at the right time," said Ron Marsella, a Providence developer whom many credit with coming up with the idea for Capital Center.

Mr. Marsella said he was confident that Capital Center would be fully developed one day. Even though some in Providence had hoped it would have been built out by now, he said the city had made remarkable strides in a relatively short period of time. "People are taking snapshots when they should be making movies," he said. "Thirty years in the life of the city is a snap of the fingers."

From The New York Times

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the new york times?!?!

Havens: Weekender: Branford, Conn.

it's an article about my hometown... one of the pluses of the town according to the times is that it's only a couple hours away from a few big cities... those cities... new york (obviously), boston, and providence.

it's a good read (although one of their facts is wrong... branford has more than one public beach)... branford is actually a town quite similar to some east bay towns here...

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I guess it's relative to the size of Branford, perhaps :).  I didn't know you were from there.  I know someone training at Yale-NH hospital who is living there now and loves it.  It's a pretty little town, and still, I think, a well kept regional secret.  The person I know there was shocked to be able to buy a place as close to the water as he did (like a block or two away) for as little as he did.  He was expecting huge price runups there, and didn't find it.

- Garris

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, Providence is the second largest city in New England, very urban, and within visiting distance from Branford...many years ago I lived in East Haven (next to Branford) and we either went to NYC or Providence.

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I guess it's relative to the size of Branford, perhaps smile.gif. I didn't know you were from there. I know someone training at Yale-NH hospital who is living there now and loves it. It's a pretty little town, and still, I think, a well kept regional secret. The person I know there was shocked to be able to buy a place as close to the water as he did (like a block or two away) for as little as he did. He was expecting huge price runups there, and didn't find it.

Branford (last I lived here) had a population of 30k. it is really a well kept secret. there's so much here that people don't realize it. and the proximity to (in my opinion) the most fun city in the state makes it even better.

as for the real estate here... i think it depends on where you are. there are price runups on the water in the more desirable areas.

Well, Providence is the second largest city in New England, very urban, and within visiting distance from Branford...many years ago I lived in East Haven (next to Branford) and we either went to NYC or Providence.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

new haven has only about 50k fewer people than providence, so hearing providence referred to as a big city in a story about a town just outside new haven is kind of funny to me.

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new haven has only about 50k fewer people than providence, so hearing providence referred to as a big city in a story about a town just outside new haven is kind of funny to me.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yeah, I lived in CT (NH, Hartford areas) for 4 years...

Being identified as as a big city is not a measure of raw city population that completes the desination of a "big city" as much as the feel, the look, the downtown density, activity, variety of life, the metro density; things like that - again by New England standards the big 3 are NYC, BOS, PVD. Actuially, as I tried to explain to others a few weeks ago, that is the national view as well.

Anyway, we (friends and I) viewed it the same as the author...Branford is a nice town.

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Nationally, I think most would disagree, but whatever. Branford is indeed a great spot, the Real Estate prices are getting ridiculous though.

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Me confused. Is this describing what Carpionato might build at the Fruit Warehouse site?

The location of Carpionato's new hotel - in a downtown site, two blocks from the new Providence Place Mall, the centerpiece of an intense economic revival effort - should, however, guarantee its success, he said.

Carpionato's plan calls for a 15- to 20-story tower with stores and restaurants at ground level, parking on Levels 2 through 7, some 200 to 250 hotel rooms above the parking, and condominiums on top. The hotel's brand has not yet been determined, but Intercontinental has expressed interest, Mr. Kokot said.

Because it sounds an awful lot like the Fogarty Buidling plan.

And regarding the Fogarty Building site:

To further that goal, the company recently bought a controlling interest in the former Providence police and fire station, opposite the Holiday Inn, and the Fogarty Building down the street. Although city officials have suggested that turning them into hotels may not be wise at this point, David Preston, a spokesman for the Procaccianti Group, said Procaccianti would consider a number of uses - including hotels.

So the city thinks we may not need a hotel there now? I thought this one was a no-brainer as it would attach directly to the Convention Center.

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I think they're actually referring to the triangular parcel near Citizens/Kennedy Plaza when they describe the Intercontinental. I've heard through the grapevine that we should expect movement on this soon.

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I've heard through the grapevine that we should expect movement on this soon.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yes, we should. Parcel 12 is prime, the Fruit Warehouse is a backwater, I'd expect if one company has the rights to both, which is the case, Parcel 12 would be the first one to be acted on.

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Yes! Parcel 12 has so much potential it's about time.... I'd like something around 15-20 stories for that, and something that will complement the Citizens building as well. Hopefully something triangular.

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Great article! However, I always thought the "rebirth" of Providence really started to show up on the radar screen (even nationally) in the mid to late 90's(1997ish), but the article mentions the year 2000 as a turning point. That first picture is very historic looking...I dig.

Some pretty funny quotes as well:

"Cianci

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Check out the link below. This is the kind of thing we really need!! When the hell is Providence Place Mall going to wise up and do something about the riffraff that loiters around?? I'm sorry if this sounds elitist, but you don't see this at Copely, and PPM is still supposed to be an "up-scale" mall. RIGHT??

Mall theater closes after disturbance

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I'm sure everyone has heard this by now...

Bill O'Reilly sent an undercover video camera to a large drunken Brown party then played it on national TV. This smeer reporting is obviously payback for something, why would he single out Brown on national television when much worse stuff happens at other colleges? Fair & Balanced my ass. Then again this is the man that a few days ago called for terrorists to strike San Francisco.

Party on Brown's campus prompts University probe and national criticism

http://www.wpri.com/Global/story.asp?S=4118971

Fox News airs footage of Sex Power God

'O'Reilly Factor' segment claims to uncover U.-sponsored 'debauchery' at Saturday party

http://media.www.browndailyherald.com/medi...gepublisher.com

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