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DESTROYED: Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse

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Old market ripe for development

Developers are considering what to do with the former Providence produce market, a historic -- and unusual -- building.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer - Monday, May 31, 2004

Broken glass is sprinkled over shattered loading pallets, old onion sacks lie about the floor, and graffiti covers the walls at the former city produce market on Harris Avenue.

But the state Department of Transportation, which owns the historic building and its seven-acre property, says an offer to sell it has brought an unusual number of inquiries. When it held a pre-bid meeting, a kind of open house and tour for developers, earlier this month, more than 40 people showed up.

Several developers said they're working on proposals for the site, although it isn't clear how many there are or how close they are to being completed. Some developers have hired big-name architects, and some brought their prospective investors along to the pre-bid meeting.

Joseph Caffey, president of Omni Development Corp., of Providence, said he wants to convert the building to housing, perhaps condominiums. Zoning would also allow a hotel, offices and several other uses.

The tattered old market is an unusual building in an interesting spot. Sitting on a narrow, 2,000-foot-long strip of land along Harris Avenue, the two-story building is equally long and narrow: only 58 feet deep and 810 feet long.

DOT official Paul Carcieri remarked that if you stood it on end, it would be 81 stories high, or just 21 stories shorter than the Empire State Building.

The odd shape served its purpose when it was built in 1929, of concrete and masonry, to replace an open market on Canal Street near Market Square, according to the Providence Preservation Society.

William Warner, the well-known Providence architect and planner, called it "state-of-the-art" at the time, with "refrigeration and all kinds of forward-looking methods" for handling produce. Warner, who studied the property for the DOT, is now working with Omni Development on a proposal.

Loading docks run the length of both its front and back. Trains brought the fruit and vegetables to the dock at the rear. They were unloaded and brought inside, where there are still the remains of big walk-in refrigerated rooms with heavy, insulated doors. Besides the two floors, there is a full basement -- now a little creepy -- with more refrigerated storage.

Wholesalers occupied sections of the building that went right through from back to front, where the other loading dock allowed trucks to pick up supplies for stores and restaurants.

One of the builders at the session said that ordinarily, a developer "would knock down the building and put up a shopping center."

The building's status bars that, but also makes it eligible for state and federal tax incentives for historic preservation. Similar tax credits are underpinning the current plan to convert the Masonic Temple, up the hill toward the State House, into a hotel.

Now, the inside is a shambles. Vandals may have missed breaking a window here and there, but not many. Along with the broken glass and other debris are old burlap sacks and cardboard boxes, commemorating "Black Swan California Potatoes" and onions from Stockton, also in California.

"Hulk Hogan Rules," a graffiti artist advises. There are elevators scattered the length of the building, and Warner, peering down one shaft, remarked with a chuckle that it contained a "historic elevator," obviously not in working order, a floor down.

If "location" really says it all, good and bad, about real estate, the market property goes to extremes in both directions.

On the good side, developers said, one end of it is a stone's throw from Providence Place mall, and it's a short walk from downtown, the State House, the railroad station and the Foundry.

Also, the odd little neighborhood, until recently a backwater despite its proximity to downtown, is growing again. Accross the street is a large new residential building.

On the down side, there's noise. Route 95 occupies the narrow space between the market and the nearby mall, and a highway ramp wraps around the east end and down the south side of the building, where the railroad tracks are.

While the developers were looking around, traffic rumbled down the ramp, and an Amtrak train passed with a "toot."

"It's a difficult site," said Friedrich St. Florian, the well-known designer of, among other things, the mall next door and the architect for one of the developers interested in the market.

Some of the developers, meanwhile, questioned a DOT change in the standards it will apply to the bids. Where the price bidders offer for the property was once only one of the criteria, DOT Director James Capaldi told the developers that there is only one criterion now: the highest bidder wins.

That could force developers to change their building plans in order to increase their offering price, some of them said, and could squeeze out some possible uses.

"They might be closing themselves out of getting the right developer," a prospective bidder said. The state has scheduled another chance for for developers to see the property on Thursday.

In any event, it won't be clear for a while what will become of the building.

Some builders declined to discuss their plans, but those willing to talk suggested the renovated produce market will probably include some housing, or a combination of housing and commercial development.

David Armanetti, one of the businessmen on the tour, said he would bet that "two-thirds of the proposals will be loft-style condominiums." The building is narrow enough that apartments could go from the front to the back, with windows at both ends.

Armanetti, senior project manager for The Richmond Co. Inc., a Peabody, Mass., developer, called the market "a unique opportunity," a "tricky building" to convert but one with a lot of interesting features.

"The question is," he said, "can you make the numbers work?"

From The Providence Journal

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Donald Richardson: An exposition center for Providence

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

THE RHODE ISLAND Department of Transportation recently sent out a request for proposals for the old Fruit & Produce Building, which it acquired in 1998, for the improved ramp access from Route 95, west of the Providence Place mall.

Not surprisingly, given the current financial squeeze, the state is eager to recapture some of the $14 million it paid for the eight-acre site. However, if the state looks exclusively at the immediate cash return, with no consideration of the the building's possible use, it would end up wasting its right to determine a use that would better serve the common good.

Real-estate-market realities mean that the state would probably transfer the property to a high-end residential or office developer, which in turn would have to double the property's size to justify the investment. The building would very likely be demolished.

While the historic merits of the building are arguable, it does have considerable potential value with the right end use. Its sale could return 20 to 30 percent of the original cost of the land, but this approach seems short-sighted. The proper recycling of this unused state asset could serve Rhode Island long into the future.

The building was originally constructed to distribute fruit and other produce -- essentially, it was an import terminal. That paradigm could be elegantly and profitably reversed by providing exposition space for the export -- regional, national, international -- of goods and services created in Rhode Island. Such a recycling would represent a far better use of the site than yet another condo block.

The goods and services would come from all the arts, as well as the hundreds of low-, mid- and high-tech businesses based in Rhode Island, including designers, artisans, specialized industries, manufacturers, software, bio-technology, law, finance, inventors, et al. All the manufacturing, artisan, technology and service industries could be represented.

To augment the exposition function, and to draw visitors from nearby Providence Place and downtown -- as well as from other towns and cities, via the highway -- a Faneuil Hall or Seattle Market approach could be applied to a substantial part of the building. The title for this part of the program could be the River Market.

These two uses, the Exposition Center and the River Market, would be mutually supportive and draw pedestrian, automotive and trolley traffic.

Vibrant pedestrian street life would set the tone: outdoor caf

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Does anyone know what is going on with the old farmer's market building on Harris Ave? Last I heard, the state had put out RFP's and received several proposals sometime last years. There was a study done to see if the building was sturdy enough for rehab. This building is a major eyesore for visitors to Providence Place and for residents over at the Jefferson Apts. Gov. Almond and the DOT was suppose to tear this building down in order to make way for the Providence Place exit ramp off 95 south. It was determined that the ramp could built without demolishing the building. Twice now college kids and others have tried to set it on fire, putting firefighters at risk. Also homeless people have been found living here. I say, tear it down now! Not all old building can or need to be saved.

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Boy, you read my mind. I drove by this building just this afternoon and was planning on posting on this this evening. Anyone with any info? I too haven't heard a peep after the flurry of articles about it last year.

- Garris

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Apparently the residents at Jefferson (or at least a vocal number of them) are against anything with a retail component in this space. You'd think they'd want some sort of farmer's/artisans market the way they are off in no man's land out there, but perhaps they live there because they like no man's land, I say move to South County if that's what you want.

A number of bids called for knocking it down. It's not only the condition of the building, but it's layout that developers don't like. It's very narrow, not many retailers are interested in that, and it's likely far to big in area for it to all be a farmer's market. The way the building backs up against the highway ramps makes it unattractive as a residential development. As much as I'm for saving old buildings... I don't know, it doesn't look good for this one. Maybe this is a place were an arts group could band together to buy themselves some studio space and get promises from the state and city on maintaining low property tax rates to keep it affordable.

Personally, I don't like this area for a farmer's market. It's not really on it's way from or too anywhere, the only pedestrian connection to downcity is the horrid walkway under the mall and the highway. My personal favourite spot for a farmer's market is the old Public Safety Complex in LaSalle Square. There is also a proposal in the Jewelry District commission plan (not an actual proposal, but what the commission would like to see) for an outdoor marketplace in Davol Square in the parking lot next to the Newport Ferry. I'd love to see that happen too, and think it is a much better spot geographically.

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Where exactly was Buddy's proposed Pats stadium going to be, would this building have come down for that?

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Where exactly was Buddy's proposed Pats stadium going to be, would this building have come down for that?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Pat's stadium would have emcompassed the farmers market, the land where the Jefferson Apts are and the Foundary complex. I still haven't gotten over the pat's not coming here :angry:

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Apparently the residents at Jefferson (or at least a vocal number of them) are against anything with a retail component in this space. You'd think they'd want some sort of farmer's/artisans market the way they are off in no man's land out there, but perhaps they live there because they like no man's land, I say move to South County if that's what you want.

A number of bids called for knocking it down. It's not only the condition of the building, but it's layout that developers don't like. It's very narrow, not many retailers are interested in that, and it's likely far to big in area for it to all be a farmer's market. The way the building backs up against the highway ramps makes it unattractive as a residential development. As much as I'm for saving old buildings... I don't know, it doesn't look good for this one. Maybe this is a place were an arts group could band together to buy themselves some studio space and get promises from the state and city on maintaining low property tax rates to keep it affordable.

Personally, I don't like this area for a farmer's market. It's not really on it's way from or too anywhere, the only pedestrian connection to downcity is the horrid walkway under the mall and the highway. My personal favourite spot for a farmer's market is the old Public Safety Complex in LaSalle Square. There is also a proposal in the Jewelry District commission plan (not an actual proposal, but what the commission would like to see) for an outdoor marketplace in Davol Square in the parking lot next to the Newport Ferry. I'd love to see that happen too, and think it is a much better spot geographically.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Wasnt there ideas out that this could become a version of Quincy Market in boston?

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Wasnt there ideas out that this could become a version of Quincy Market in boston?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think there was speculation that that may be a good use for the building, but I don't see it working because of how seperated that parcel is from the rest of the city. A lot would have to be done to improve the pathways from Federal Hill, and under the mall. Even then, it's still rather out of the way.

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I think there was speculation that that may be a good use for the building, but I don't see it working because of how seperated that parcel is from the rest of the city. A lot would have to be done to improve the pathways from Federal Hill, and under the mall. Even then, it's still rather out of the way.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing residential there, having the train tracks right there.

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The Pat's stadium would have emcompassed the farmers market, the land where the Jefferson Apts are and the Foundary complex. I still haven't gotten over the pat's not coming here  :angry:

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Wow, that would have been a perfect spot, actually :whistling: . Easy highway access, great skyline view from the stadium, people could walk Downtown and to Federal Hill for food... Now, as much as I like the Foundry and The Jefferson, we're kinda left with a larger neighborhood that we can't quite figure out what to do with...

- Garris

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I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing residential there, having the train tracks right there.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Captial Cove condos will be backing up on the train tracks, so having the rail line that close in and of itself isn't a problem. But the current structure would have people's bedroom windows right at the same level as the train (I think Capital Cove will probably have a parking structure up against the tracks at it's site). You could have residential there, but it would be very difficult to make it work in the current building.

Wow, that would have been a perfect spot, actually  :whistling: .  Easy highway access, great skyline view from the stadium, people could walk Downtown and to Federal Hill for food...  Now, as much as I like the Foundry and The Jefferson, we're kinda left with a larger neighborhood that we can't quite figure out what to do with... 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think the skyline view would be mostly obscured by the mall. They'd need to really work on the Dean Street overpass to entice anyone to walk to Federal Hill. I'm a hardcore pedestrian and even I say no to that area. Losing the Foundry would have been a tragedy. Having the stadium cover the site of the Foundry and Jefferson would mean placing the river into a pipe, or diverting it I suppose, but where to? There may be a way to squeeze a stadium in there, but I think the Allens Ave. waterfront or the North End are far better alternatives.

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this is my proposal for the old produce bldg.... and the parking lot across the highway at the base of federal hill along west exchange st.....

two, very thin and sleek, 20+ story, 'office' towers, a quincy market would not work there. the residents would have a heart attack with 20+ bars next to their $2000+ apt.!

when i say thin, i mean very thin

it would bookend the skyline as you enter the city from the west on rt. 6/10

also, they would provide views OVER the mall which would bring the people who occupy the new bldgs physchologically into downtown

this might get to some of you guys, but i would want them to be very similar to the new westin, in materials and facades, but without the same roofs. id like to see a mini version of the seafirst center in seattle [love that bldg in sim city by the way] but with very dark red brick/stone/concrete etc mixed with modern windows

no ideas which companies would want to inhabit them but. having them be thin would keep the sq footage low enough to not flood any markets, but maybe they could charge a little bit lower of a rate because they are just outside downtown providence proper and this may be enough to attract a regional headquarters or a up and coming who wants to make a statement

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Somesort of wall needs to be built on each side of 6/10. A literal wall, or a highrise, it doesn't matter. West Exchange Street is actually a kind of nice street, the side of it that wasn't torn down to build 6/10 anyway. I can picture in my mind that end of Federal Hill being a really nice, and highly sought after neighbourhood. It's steps from Downcity, great highway access, it's in the heart of Restaurant Row, but the blocks around Spruce and Bradford Streets would be exclusively residential/office, so you wouldn't have to deal with the Restaurant Row crowds. They just need to block out 6/10 and it's golden.

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They just need to block out 6/10 and it's golden.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Or cover it up or bulldoze the whole thing...I bet that'd do the trick :D !

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Or cover it up or bulldoze the whole thing...I bet that'd do the trick  :D !

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That'd be nice. :)

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Does anyone remember the old Cold Storage building and the Silver Top diner that use to sit on this land?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I loved the silvertop! Somewhere around 94-95 new people took it over and the food really went down hill. Its sad that they arent there anymore. Back when the Livingroom was in the Foundry (and was the only "Big" club in town) we would go over to eat after shows. Lots of fun.

Liam

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I posted this in another thread early and wanted to bring it into this thread to expand on it.

I was looking at the fruit market on Harris Avenue today (I have some pics to post later), sadly the building looks like a lost cause to me, it's too close to the highway and the train tracks, no one is ever going to be able to rehab it and make back their money on it. I say, have the city knock it down (they own it), donate the land to a non-profit group of artists, and help them secure loans to build a new structure on site for affordable arts spaces. The state could create a special sales tax zone that funnels money to the city to cover the costs incurred by knocking down the building. The city could assure low property taxes on the structure... Someone in the arts community needs to get a proposal to the city though for anything like this to happen. We can't wait for the city to do it, they won't do it right, tell the city what the community needs, not the other way around.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Here's those photos I mentioned:

PVDFruit001.jpg

PVDFruit002.jpg

As you can see from the photos, the building is extremely narrow, but sits on a pretty nice sized piece of land, there's a good amount of room between it and Harris Ave. in front, and the highway ramp in the back. One could build a nice tall structure there, but the Jefferson residents would have a cow about losing their southern light, righly so probably, look at the light they get! However, one could build a nice long, wide 2-3 story structure for artists studios and live/work space. At the Eastern end of the parcel, closest to the highway could be a taller structure, and for that I would propose to build a Rhode Island Museum of Contemporary Art. A big, shiny, flashy, modern collosass! Unlike a farmers market which needs foot traffic, a musuem is generally a planned destination, people rarely walk by a museum and pop in, they set out with going to the museum in mind, so this rather out of the way location works for that application.

If the Dean Street bridge were improved for better pedestrian access, a ramp/stairs could be built from Harris Ave. and museum patrons could head to Federal Hill on foot. There could be a skybridge over route 95 to get people from the mall and Downcity, also the passage under the mall needs to be improved.

There's a parcel beyond the Providence Place ramp between it and the Dean Street bridge, that could also be brought into the complex for more artists space and smaller galleries.

There's going to be plenty of people with money (patrons of the arts) coming to Providence in the coming years. And the people developing all these high-end condos are going to want another selling point to get people to Providence (theatre, restaurants, shopping, RI Museum of Contemporary Art...). The time to hit up these people for funding is now.

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Nice ideas, Cotuit. Looking at it from above, wow, that's a tough space. I don't think it's too narrow for townhouse/rowhouse type developement at all, certainly no narrower than my condo, which are rowhouses. Rowhouses would keep it low, so the Jefferson folks wouldn't have a problem with light. But that highway ramp nearby might be tough. What about just making it an extension of Waterplace?

- Garris

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Nice ideas, Cotuit.  Looking at it from above, wow, that's a tough space.  I don't think it's too narrow for townhouse/rowhouse type developement at all, certainly no narrower than my condo, which are rowhouses.  Rowhouses would keep it low, so the Jefferson folks wouldn't have a problem with light.  But that highway ramp nearby might be tough.  What about just making it an extension of Waterplace?

- Garris

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The state, not the city owns this property. The state threw out all the businesses from this building because it was suppose to be torn down when it was first thought that it was in the way of the new mall exit ramp. Later they discovered that it was not neccessary to tear it down. The state, not the city, had advertised RFP for this site.

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Because of 6/10 in the back, I think pure residential might be a hard sell.

What about real mixed use? Street level retail, 2 floors of offices and 3 more of residential. That would put the residential one story above the 6/10 sight line and still keep the building low enough to not block Jefferson place.

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Because of 6/10 in the back, I think pure residential might be a hard sell. 

What about real mixed use?  Street level retail, 2 floors of offices and 3 more of residential.  That would put the residential one story above the 6/10 sight line and still keep the building low enough to not block Jefferson place.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

How about state offices

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