When the West Broadway Neighborhood Association held its 30th Anniversary Gala at the Cranston Street Armory last fall, it was the first time many of the 1,100 attendees had ever stepped inside the yellow-brick battlements of a building known as the “people’s castle.”
A generation ago, the fortress-like 1907 building, with its soaring metal-arched drill hall and ornate copper crenelations, was familiar to many Rhode Islanders either in the National Guard or attending events such as track meets, car shows and political functions. Since the National Guard left the building in 1996, however, the Armory has become a quiet, lonely presence on Providence’s West Side, lending the surrounding neighborhood its image and name in real estate listings, but modest practical benefit.
The state is now evaluating bids from six contractors on a two-year Armory repair project funded by the Rhode Island Capital Plan Fund, targeted to secure the façade, fix masonry and damaged windows.
The bids range from $2.2 million to $3 million and the state is expected to pick one by the end of this month.
“It is this magnificent building, but now it is not being fully utilized,” said Kari Lang, executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association. “Whenever people hear there’s something at the Armory, they jump at the opportunity to go inside. It has touched so many people’s lives in Rhode Island.”
As a candidate, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee campaigned on better utilizing state-owned properties and pledged to renovate the Armory so it could host state departments now leasing office space from private landlords. Currently the state fire marshal, with offices in part of the first floor of the Armory, is the only full-time occupant.
But shortly after taking office, Chafee was informed that the cost of repairing and converting the facility into a modern office building was far higher than leasing the same amount of space. The plan to move more offices there hasn’t gone anywhere since.
“The build-out cost per square foot to put employees there is extremely high and cost prohibitive,” said Ronald Renaud, executive director of the R.I. Department of Administration. “Knowing what we have to do and what the market is, it will be an order of magnitude more to put offices there.”