Brown Students and Faculty Join Community in Opposition to Plan to Demo Historic Buildings

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


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Brown Administrators push for the plan that would tear down four historic buildings on College Hill.

Neighbors, preservationists, urban planners, Brown faculty, Brown students, and alumni voiced their opposition to the proposal to demolish four historic buildings on Providence's East Side.

The criticism of the plan came during a meeting of the Providence Plan Commission which saw some of the top experts in Rhode Island soundly criticize the proposal to build a new performing arts center.

VIDEO: See Meeting BELOW

"There needs to be a wake-up call that [Brown's Institutional Master Plan] fails to protect the residents and taxpayers," said neighbor Christopher Tompkins. "College Hill is one of the best attributes they have -- and we're not being appreciated."

The proposed facility would have seating for 500, but university officials offered no solution to meet the parking demands and claimed that the area could absorb the increased demand -- the proposed site is less than half a block from the busiest commercial area on Thayer Street. 

One of the buildings being targeted for demolition is the historic Lucien Sharpe Carriage House. The structure is valued by the City of Providence at just under $800,000 and was designed by the notable architect Alpheus Morse. The 2 1/5 story gothic stable with a cross gable roof is now home to Brown's Environmental Studies program.

Brown over the past two decades has demolished more than two dozens historic structures.

More below video.

Presentation, and Opposition

On Tuesday, Brown University officials presented the institution's intent to amend their Institutional Master Plan to construct a student living and wellness building at 450 Brook Street -- where buildings had previously been torn down and a parking lot now stands -- and the performing arts center between Waterman and Angell Streets

"The amendment also includes information on the University’s changes in land holdings and relocation of buildings affected by new construction – for action (College Hill)," stated Brown in their brief meeting agenda item. 

Following other planning commission business, Brown was saved for last on the docket, where Brown architect Collette Creppell and Executive Vice President Russell Cary made the case for the new wellness center and the proposed performing arts center, which they claimed as critical to the school given the state of current facilities.

Then the public comment period began -- with every person testifying opposed to the project, from neighbors, to historians, to preservationists -- as well as Brown students and faculty.

Ted Sanderson, the recently retired Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, spoke to the role that the targeted buildings, as a group, play in making College Hill a historic district.  

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Lucien Sharpe Carriage House would be demolished under the plan.

"College Hill is important not just for individual buildings, its a place," said Sanderson. "The surviving historical buildings will be isolated and under greater jeopardy...this is a serious assault on the historic district."

Those opposed to the tearing down of the buildings -- which Brown said would likely be just four, as they identified a possible location on the college campus to move a fifth structure -- had a myriad of reasons for appearing before the planning commission on Tuesday evening. 

Stu Yang, who recently moved to Providence, like many sympathized with Brown, but ultimately opposed the plan. 

"We're new to Providence - we could have lived [anywhere] but we chose College Hill because of its history," said Yang. "I appreciate that Brown needs a performing arts center...but I'm not sure all the options have been considered."

Representatives from the current Brown community even questioned the decision by the school to propose the new building in the heart of campus.

"I'd love to the project downtown, but it's not my call," said Brown Professor Bertram Malle, who lives near the proposed location. "And parking and traffic are concerns, [as are] losing parking lots." 

Two students at Brown, including Austen Sharpe, testified against the demolition of the Urban Environmental Lab at 135 Angell Street -- the Lucien Sharp Carriage House.  

Meeting Continued

Following the presentation, and discussion among the planning commission, board member Harry Bilodeau said he was ready to make a motion to reject the plan.

Bilodeau had expressed his concern at the outset by questioning both the need to demolish the historic structures -- and whether or not the university was adequately prepared to address parking issues. 

"I make a motion to deny [the amendment]," said Bilodeau.

The city's legal counsel, however, interjected to warn or proceeding further. 

"You need to have standing," said Kelly Morris.

After acting board chair Michael Gazdacko said he agreed with legal counsel -- that a hasty plan commission decision could be easily overturned by Brown -- he suggested what Providence Preservation Society Director Brent Runyon had proposed during his commentary -- to continue the consideration at next month's meeting, on July 16.

"The neighborhood has spoken clearly and well," said Bilodeau. "Let's postpone but I want a staff report on findings of fact."


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