When the last of the Arcade’s retail tenants vacated the 185-year-old building in 2008 in anticipation of a planned renovation, the imposing structure often called the oldest indoor mall in the country jumped to the top of the most-endangered-properties list published by the Providence Preservation Society.
Preservationists worried that efforts to modernize the interior would result in the loss of what makes it unique: The ornate architectural detail and indoor streetscape design that has made the Arcade, with its natural-light-flooded atrium and tiny retail storefronts, one of downtown’s most lasting and beloved historic landmarks.
“Impressive architecture and deep roots in both Providence’s and America’s history contribute to concern surrounding the building’s proposed reconfiguration,” the preservation society declared at the time.
Fast-forward five years and the Arcade is poised to complete its rebirth as a mixed-use project with 17 small retail spaces and three restaurants on the first floor and 48 micro-loft apartments on the second and third floors - with many of its most important historical features preserved, and others uncovered along the way.
“Bringing the building back to its original format is both what allowed us to make it economical and enabled the preservation of the building,” said Evan Granoff of Granoff Associates, the Providence developers who purchased the Arcade in 2006 from Johnson & Wales University.
The renovation seeks to marry the modern and the historical. The building will have an underground bicycle garage and each of the micro-units, which are as small as 225 square feet, comes with built-in furniture, hidden storage and built-in, flat-screen TVs. With 17 retailers all focused on design and fashion, Granoff hopes to create a retail destination.
“The economy of Providence has grown around design-based businesses,” Granoff said. “This fits with the economic activity the universities and the businesses of Providence have created.”
By embracing the building’s past and marrying it with a fresh vision of the future of downtown Providence, Granoff has won the backing of the same preservationists who worried about the Arcade’s future. Last year, the Arcade was dropped from PPS’ annual listing.