DEMOLITION of the historic Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse in Providence – listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2005 – began last week despite opposition from preservationists.
While preservationists tried in vain to derail the start of demolition of the almost 80-year-old Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse on Harris Avenue, owners of The 903 – the adjacent condominium development – saw a “tremendous” increase in interest last week, said Joseph Paolino Jr., a principal of Paolino Properties.
Paolino – together with the New York-based Athena Group – owns and markets the 303-condo development, which was completed as apartments in 2002 and converted to condos by Paolino in 2005. To date, about 100 units have been sold, Paolino said in an interview.
Paolino said his development company is the now the “happiest” condo developer in Providence.
“Once [the warehouse] gets knocked down, that whole neighborhood is being transformed,” he said, adding that it’s a big step toward the revitalization. “Some people figure that by buying a condo there now, they’re on the ground floor financially. Because once that area gets developed, their condos are going to appreciate greatly.”
Being close to the Providence Place mall has been a draw for the development, but having a mixed-use retail center close by will further increase interest, he said.
The demolition began last week, despite opposition from preservationists, after the city issued an emergency demolition permit.
Once the dust settles, Fruit & Produce site owner Carpionato Properties will decide how the site will be developed, said Senior Vice President David Chamberland, who oversees construction for the firm.
“We don’t really have a completed idea as to what’s going to go there,” Chamberland said. “Our best guess is that it’s going to be some sort of retail and office space, with probably a hotel component.”
Also, Carpionato is having preliminary talks with the city about re-routing a portion of Harris Avenue, because the developer also owns a smaller triangular piece of land where Kinsley and Harris avenues intersect, and wants to include it in the new development.
“After we get through knocking this building down, the project will be able to take shape through design. We’ll be able to work closely with the city planning department,” Chamberland said.
“We’ve been, for the most part, hindered by the existing conditions – the building that has been structurally unsound. We were very, very limited by the use of that existing building.”
In an interview last week, on the second day of demolition, Vicki Veh, interim director of the Providence Preservation Society, said PPS was still working to find a way to halt the demolition.
“We are extremely concerned that the procedures and regulations that are in place to protect our architectural heritage were not complied with in this instance,” Veh said.
On Tuesday, PPS officials met with Mayor David N. Cicilline and other officials, but Veh declined to comment on what was discussed. Calls to the mayor’s office and the city’s Department of Planning weren’t returned before press time.
According to a PPS history of the Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse, the structure was built in 1929 as a “state-of-the-art” hub for southeastern New England distribution of meat and produce. With bays on either side, the building was designed as a transfer station that would allow goods coming off trains to be moved directly onto trucks.
The warehouse – whose Art Deco architecture makes it a Providence rarity, according to the PPS – was used as a distribution hub until the early 1980s. Then, with the influx of supermarkets to the region, there wasn’t a strong need for wholesale produce and meat, according to the PPS.
The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2005 and is part of the city’s Industrial and Commercial Buildings District. •