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Journal photo / Sandor Bodo A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for this morning at the posh Hotel Providence, at Westminster and Mathewson Streets.

A diamond on the still-rough streets downtown

With an 80-room boutique hotel, a real-estate investor takes a leap of faith in the city's continued resurgence.

BY GREGORY SMITH Journal Staff Writer | January 12, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- Stanley Weiss caressed the mahogany and tiger-maple armoire, extolling its made-to-order birth in a Virginia furniture factory. He gestured toward the pedimented top.

"It looks like a real French armoire. This is not a shortcut," he said.

Weiss, an entrepreneur and antiques aficionado, glanced around the guest room in his sumptuous new Hotel Providence downtown. Then he stepped into the bathroom.

"In decorating, you know, they say, throw a cat in with the dogs. The cat's the mirror."

The bathroom, with a pale gold-patterned wallpaper, is a cool expression in whites and chromes. But a gold-colored, wood-framed mirror hangs over the pedestal sink.

"That's a carved baroque, hot, gold mirror," he said, intended as a counterpoint to the austerity of its surroundings.

From guest rooms, to conference rooms, to the lobby, Weiss is the proud sole proprietor of the newest property to cross the finish line in the hotel sweepstakes in Rhode Island's capital city.

Observers say the hotel, developed for about $15 million, including the buildout of its signature restaurant L'Epicureo, is a gamble on the future of Providence's shabby old retail business center, now called Downcity.

Hotel Providence is located in two rehabilitated buildings, one of which was built as the Westminster Hotel in 1892, at Westminster and Mathewson Streets. Much of the historical detail, including a grand staircase, cast-iron columns and coffered ceiling in the ballroom, has been restored.

A ribbon-cutting with the governor is scheduled for 10 a.m. today for the hotel and L'Epicureo, whose owners moved it from a successful spot on Federal Hill to join Weiss in placing a big bet on Downcity. The first head won't hit a pillow for several days, until the hotel wins a final certificate of occupancy from the city. The opening of L'Epicureo is expected to follow a week or so thereafter.

The Hotel Providence is only the second luxury hotel in Providence and, despite numerous attempts by other developers, is only the third new hotel in Providence since The Westin Providence opened in late 1994.

While nightly room rates are fluid, Hotel Providence expects to charge $169 to $189, off-peak, for its 80 rooms, and more for suites.

For the 62-year-old Weiss, the hotel is a personal statement, not just a business proposition. He's filled it with many of the antiques from his collection, including lamps from the historical-plaque College Hill mansion he shares with his wife and an elaborate marble-topped sideboard that was made for his wife's great-great-great-grandmother in the 1890s in New Orleans.

DiLeonardo International, the renowned Rhode Island-based designer for the hospitality industry, designed the hotel and restaurant.

FROM THE WHITE Carrara marble and the complimentary Bulgari toiletries in the guest bathrooms to the duvets and the Egyptian cotton linens on the pillow-top beds to the 8-foot-tall, circa 1895 Egyptian-revival grandfather clock in the lobby, it's the luxe.

But whether the boutique hotel is a winning business in a turnaround neighborhood is a question that remains to be answered.

"The bank never would have given me a mortgage if the numbers didn't work. Case closed," snapped Weiss.

Pinnacle Advisory Group, of Boston, in a market feasibility study, assured Weiss that the hotel would be a viable prospect. In the study three years ago, according to Weiss, the hospitality-industry consulting firm said the market could accommodate the Hotel Providence as well as a Marriott Renaissance luxury hotel planned for the Masonic Temple on Smith Hill.

Said Clark Schoettle, who oversees the Downcity Fund, which makes loans to boost the area, "The rooms are beautifully appointed and each room is different. It's going to have its clientele."

There is no question that Weiss is taking a risk, said John Bowen, president of Johnson & Wales University, which trains people for the hospitality industry, and chairman of the Providence Foundation, where Weiss also is a trustee. He hailed Weiss as a visionary and a pioneer.

Although J&W has its own motels, Bowen said the university has pledged to steer customers to the hotel and to entertain at the restaurant. Hotel Providence has been pitched throughout the corporate, academic and medical communities, and Bowen predicted that the shortage of downtown hotel rooms will work in Weiss's favor.

Hotel Providence landed a berth in the global reservations network operated by Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which confers a lofty status similar to that of The Westin Providence's designation by AAA as a four-diamond hotel.

"That is a world-class organization. . . . It's a coup," Bowen said.

DOWNCITY IS STILL on the rebound from its nadir in 1982 when the Outlet department store closed, culminating a post-World War II flight to suburbia that stole its stores, professional offices and service businesses.

"It's obvious to see that the corner has turned," insisted Weiss, who has adopted as a slogan for the hotel, "Transforming the Heart of Downtown."

Travelers Aid -- now known as Crossroads Rhode Island -- has moved from Downcity along with its sometimes-troublesome clientele, Weiss noted. A parking garage is planned for that site and tens of millions of dollars have been spent to develop apartments and stores along and just off Westminster Street.

Besides its affiliation with the award-winning L'Epicureo, Weiss said the hotel benefits from its strategic location between the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Providence Performing Arts Center, in what the city calls its Arts and Entertainment District.

Just like each of the antiques that Weiss sells as an avocation from the venerable Tilden-Thurber Building across the street from the hotel, the project has a story behind it.

Weiss began his career as a real-estate investor in the mid-1960s when he was a graduate student at Brown University, with a background in sociology and urban studies, and decided to give up his carefully assembled collection of Leica cameras.

He sold it for $30,000 and bought a house on Benefit Street. One thing led to another, he bought some more houses, plunged into turnaround projects and amassed money.

When he and his partners decided to liquidate their investments in the University Heights shopping center and apartment complex in the late 1980s, they reinvested differently.

Fascinated by things historical, Weiss loved the 19th- and 20th-century mercantile buildings that characterize Downcity. He thought he could indulge his passion while buying properties at the bottom of the market and then profiting with the inevitable upturn.

"My partners put their money in the stock market" and made a killing. "I sat here with empty buildings. I spit blood," he lamented. "I never thought it would have taken this long" for Downcity to come around.

After some false starts, Weiss got the hotel project launched.

"I tried to do it justice," he said of the Hotel Providence. "As it is, we've just squeaked by" financially. "Because we wanted to make the finest product we could possibly make."

From The Providence Journal

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David Brussat: Hotel Providence, take a bow

Thursday, January 13, 2005

THE INTERSECTION of Westminster and Mathewson streets, in downtown Providence, has waited a long time for the moment that arrived yesterday at 11:11 a.m. Stanley Weiss cut a ribbon to open his Hotel Providence, a boutique hotel of 80 rooms operated by the Dunfey Group. Its fancy restaurant, L'Epicureo, is expected to open soon.

The hotel consists of three buildings -- the Lederer (1897), of seven stories, with a porte-cochere on Mathewson; the Westminster Hotel (1892), of five stories, on Westminster; and a low el-shaped building erected after the demolition, in 1994, of four small buildings whose removal, applauded even by local preservationists, was an act of beautification.

Integrating the three buildings into one hotel, cohesive and elegant, was quite a challenge. Jay Litman, of Newport Collaborative Architects, led the design team for the hotel's rooftop addition, building connections, renovations, restorations and much of the interior. Di Leonardo International, of Warwick, designed L'Epicureo's interiors. Many furnishings come from Weiss's own collection of antiques.

The charming space within the "el" created by the liner building is Grace Park at Freeman Square. For most of its history, the plaza had been occupied chiefly by gentlemen of the impecuniary persuasion -- who gazed upon a costly fountain, a black granite orb designed to rotate on a thin film of water, and to be swiveled by children of all ages. Inspired by German engineering, the fountain has not operated for years. Weiss should get a real fountain.

Facing the hotel are the Grace Episcopal Church (1846), designed by Richard Upjohn; the Tilden-Thurber Building (1898), former home of the fine jewelers and possibly the most ornate building downtown; and the Burrill Building (1891), third home of the Gladdings Co., founded in 1805, the city's oldest dry-goods store when it closed in 1974.

These buildings, together with the ensemble that forms the hotel, add up to the most urbane place in Providence, more like Europe than anywhere else in town -- arguably the loveliest space in the city. When warm weather blossoms, eating outside in Grace Park will be a most graceful experience.

The activity should help enliven the immediate neighborhood, whose residential population will approach 350 when the Peerless Lofts open this spring. Today's downtown was once a posh residential quarter. Those who live there now may number more than at any time since 1840, after the Arcade's success lured commerce across the river from Cheapside, as Market Square was known.

For those of us who have waited years for this day, the high style of the hotel lobby, the ballroom and the restaurant caresses a set of hopes that had been put on hold time and again. Weiss had made several attempts to develop a hotel since the creation of Grace Park. Fate, in the form of financial difficulty or difficult partners, sank each attempt. What is it -- third time's the charm? Well, who's counting? This time's the charm!

Still, to those of us who have been counting, the 10 years have seemed an eternity.

Think back a decade or more to 1993. Weiss had just opened his antiques gallery in the Tilden-Thurber Building. At the time, he imagined Westminster Street as a boutique retail attraction, along the lines of Royal Street, in New Orleans, where his lovely wife, Beth, grew up. But possibilities of a different sort were gathering on the horizon. Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, the Met Caf

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Great article. I can't wait until all of the apartments and RISD housing are complete. Downcity is really in something of a holding pattern until that happens, being an area of great potential, but no action. I don't see any reason why Westminster couldn't be a Newbury St-type of place.

Anyone know, after all of the housing is done and all of the RISD students move in (500 in total is it?) how many people will be projected to live in the immediate downcity area?

- Garris

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RISD's opening in June, and is aproximately 500 people. I think there'll be 400ish people in Buff Chase's apartments on Westminster. Then there's The Cosmoplitan on Fountain Street, some units over by AS220 on Empire. I'm not sure how many students J&W houses on Weybosset.

According to The Providence Plan there were 2,678 residents Downtown at the 2000 census count. Downtown being the State House to Route 195 and the west side of South Main Street to Route 95. So that includes Cathedral Square, and the apartments near the train station, and the apartment building at Chestnut and Weybosset (the name of which escapes me at the moment).

So maybe another 1,000 since then including the students would bring us to 3,500-3,800...?

The area is 0.51 square miles, so at 3,500 the density would be 6,862psm. Nothing to write home about, but good considering it was a ghost town 10 years ago. The city's overall density is something around 10,000psm, I don't have the 2003 estimates infront of me to confirm that.

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I don't see any reason why Westminster couldn't be a Newbury St-type of place. 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Needs to be reopened to traffic.. Otherwise, its just dead space.. What a bad idea that was.. Making it pedrestrian only..

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RISD's opening in June, and is aproximately 500 people. I think there'll be 400ish people in Buff Chase's apartments on Westminster. Then there's The Cosmoplitan on Fountain Street, some units over by AS220 on Empire. I'm not sure how many students J&W houses on Weybosset.

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Since the Census, there has also been the Ship Street lofts, Peerless Building, The Alice, The Plaza, Cosmo.. Thats quite a few projects.. And with the students too, I wonder..

Does the Foundry and Jefferson Place count as downtown?

Are there any plans to actually attract jobs and commercial? Or is Prov going to be just a living city???

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Since the Census, there has also been the Ship Street lofts, Peerless Building, The Alice, The Plaza, Cosmo.. Thats quite a few projects.. And with the students too, I wonder..

Does the Foundry and Jefferson Place count as downtown?

Are there any plans to actually attract jobs and commercial? Or is Prov going to be just a living city???

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Ship Street Lofts, The Foundry, and Jefferson at Providence Place are outside of what is considered Downtown. Ship Street Lofts are Upper South Providence (or the Jewelry District) and Foundry and Jefferson are technically Smith Hill, though commonly called The Promenade.

As for jobs, there's only so much that can be done I guess. Brown is trying to build a BioTech industry, that will bring jobs. Of course we got GTECH to come to the city. BofA and Citizens are both saying they will be expanding their workforces in Rhode Island. J&W has a significant expansion plan, RISD and Brown will probably be growing their workforces as well. Aqabus (tech company) also moved from Pawtucket to Rising Sun Mills.

Making Downcity attractive to residents will make it attractive to employers, they want to be where their employees want to live. The city just has to make sure it doesn't have policies that will scare them away, such as our antiquated zoning laws. I think the service sector will continue to be the fastest growing sector of Providence's workforce. As the city becomes more and more attractive to vacationers and conventions, more and more people will come, and they will have more and more needs that need catering to. As well as continued increases in the city's and the metro area's populations.

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...and hopefully Providence can keep the construction industry busy for a while. :)

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...and hopefully Providence can keep the construction industry busy for a while.  :)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You are right!! I always just put the Jewelry District w/Downtown, but its South Prov!! WOW.. The REST of South Prov is even more horrific than the stats say then huh... :huh:

I think the attractive housing stock will attract some residents, but to have sustained growth, there really needs to be an influx of jobs to Prov or the immediate vicinity... I think the city just started to review and update the zoning laws.. The last time that was done was '63 I believe..

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You are right!! I always just put the Jewelry District w/Downtown, but its South Prov!! WOW.. The REST of South Prov is even more horrific than the stats say then huh... 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Having all that industry and strip clubs down on Allens Ave. does nothing to improve the stats for South Providence.

I think the attractive housing stock will attract some residents, but to have sustained growth, there really needs to be an influx of jobs to Prov or the immediate vicinity... I think the city just started to review and update the zoning laws.. The last time that was done was '63 I believe..

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I posted a thread about zoning a little while ago. We need jobs or else the budget will continue to be balanced on the backs of residents through property taxes. Without jobs I think the city (and Warwick and Pawtucket and the surrounding area) will continue to grow as a bedroom for Boston, but we need corporate taxes and workers in the city to bring more money into the budget.

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I got to take a little tour of Hotel Providence this evening, seeing the lobby, quite a few of the rooms, the meeting rooms, and the new L'Epicurio.

I must say, it's all quite stunning. The furnishing and decor in the rooms are top notch. The windows are amazing. Some rooms have great bay windows with little seating areas. There's two large Presidential suites, one with a full kitchen and huge windows overlooking the park. There's a second level terrace attached to the Johnson & Wales Meeting Room which will be used for parties and other functions. The rooms on the upper floors have great views, I got to look at the view towards the Superman Building and City Hall, it was dusk so they were all washed in pink light, it was stunning. Other rooms have views of the State House and The Westin.

The hotel is supposed to officially open Monday or Tuesday depending on final permitting and fire inspections, and the restaurant is set to open Jan 31st. The restaurant will eventually be serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The bar has a piano and is able to host other live entertainment. The outdoor area still needs to be redone and should be ready for the spring. They will be able to seat 100 outside. The hotel is already heavily booked, and has been taking reservations at a steady clip. Seems they are already luring some celebs away from The Westin.

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Wow, sounds fantastic. I've got to get down there. Any idea what the prices are for some of these rooms? The department I work for puts up speakers from out of town at the Biltmore and at the Hope Club. It might be a nice idea to add Hotel Providence to the list.

- Garris

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The Hotel Providence finally officially opened today. I hear they are totally booked for March and are doing quite well already for February.

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There will be a lot more foot traffic up and down Matthewson Street with guests going to and from the Convention Centre and PPAC. There's a little hole in the wall convenience store a few doors down from the hotel on Matthewson that I would hope will renovate itself to attract the hotel guests. Right now it serves as little more than a place for people to buy scratch tickets and phone cards. But the hotel doesn't have a gift shop, so this place could really do a killing if it cleaned itself up.

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I had dinner at L'Epicurio at Hotel Providence tonight. They are opening on Friday, tonight was practice for the kitchen and the waitstaff (fully comped :D ). The service was quite slow, they know it and will be working hard on tightening things up before Friday, but the food was spectacular! The wine was very good too, and our server was terrific. I am so full right now, I can hardly move. :sick: Everything was beautiful, the food presentation was top notch.

The restaurant has already fully booked it's reservations for Friday and Saturday night. To start they will be dinner only, and introduce lunch and then breakfast menus over time. We hung out at the bar for a while waiting for our turn to go in, and the bar is very nice, the bartenders are very good, the crew is well experienced all around.

I think L'Epicurio will not only be drawing customers from the Hotel Providence and PPAC, but also from the Biltmore and the Westin, its going to be a happening place and right smack in the middle of Downcity!

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The Hotel Providence finally officially opened today. I hear they are totally booked for March and are doing quite well already for February.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I wish them nothing but success. The building that AS220 just bought at the corner of Mathewson & Washington Sts would have been another great location for a luxury, boutique or bed & breakfast hotel.

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The building that AS220 just bought at the corner of Mathewson & Washington Sts would have been another great location for a luxury, boutique or bed & breakfast hotel.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Or affordable live-work and gallery space for artists and regular folk....

Considering all that is going on downtown, AS220 is doing the perfect thing with that building. Bravo!

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I wish them nothing but success. The building that AS220 just bought at the corner of Mathewson & Washington Sts would have been another great location for a luxury, boutique or bed & breakfast hotel.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Sportsman's Inn would make for a good boutique hotel. ;)

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Anyone know how busy Hotel Prov. has been? Seems like they have a new flow of people.

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Very. When they opened, the back part of the building (maybe a third of the rooms) weren't done yet. Those rooms are open now and the hotel is quite busy.

They are especially picking up now with all the end of semester activities coming up with the colleges.

L'Epicureo is still playing around with their schedule a bit to try to make the most out of the times they are open. They tried an early opening on the weekends, but it was a bit soft. As the area becomes more active on the weekends they'll probably have a regular brunch. Right now they are having it only on special occassions, Easter, Mother's Day...

They've been pretty busy with events as well, meetings, weddings, parties...

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