RENDERING COURTESY KLOPFER MARTIN DESIGN GROUP AND PROVIDENCE PLANNING DEPARTMENT
STREET SMARTS: The Fones Alley RIPTA stop on the East Side of Providence shown as it would appear with improvements recommended by planners studying the Thayer Street commercial corridor.
The foot traffic, property values and investment in Providence’s Thayer Street commercial district are the envy of many Main Street merchants groups in Rhode Island.
But among many local residents and business owners, the bustling watering holes, burrito joints and hookah bars now catering to Providence’s student population are often seen as a mixed blessing, bringing rowdiness as much as commerce.
Now a plan is in place to build a more refined, sophisticated Thayer Street filled with pedestrian amenities, higher-end stores, new offices, nonstudent housing and fewer problem nightlife spots.
After a yearlong community process, the city this month unveiled a preliminary Thayer Street improvement plan designed to beautify the streetscape, make it less auto-centric and attract businesses beyond the college market.
“We want to make sure that with this new development there is a balance in retail,” said Allison Spooner, president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, which worked extensively on the plan. “That includes students, and making it safe for students, but also a mix. We are hoping that businesses targeting that [student] market don’t become the only thing on Thayer Street.” In this context, a more diverse Thayer Street means adding more boutiques and upscale shops with an older, wealthier clientele to the bars and eateries now so prominent. Marketing efforts will focus on potential new tenants in the “personal care, apparel, home furnishings and gifts and jewelry and accessory sectors,” the plan said in study findings.
“Thayer Street sucks right now – it has 50 percent restaurants and is not attracting the high-end retailers,” said Edward Bishop, a real estate agent, developer, and chairman of the Thayer Street District Management Authority. “It used to be a ‘town and gown’ neighborhood – now it is just gown, all students.”
The most visible near-term projects spelled out in the plan are a series of pocket parks, outdoor seating areas and bus stops in the corridor, some in what are now parking lanes, to make the area a more pleasant place to walk and spend time.
First among the changes will be a “parklet” in what are now two parking spaces outside the Brown University Bookstore. The parklet is slated to be installed this spring as part of “Pop-up Providence” and be paid for with $10,000 from the Providence Redevelopment Agency.