PRIME LOCATION: Ignacio Borja, a student at Johnson & Wales University, walks his dog Kala, a 1 1/2-year-old Boston Terrier/Jack Russell mix, at Grant's Block, located at 260 Westminster St., a popular place where pet owners in Providence bring their dogs to walk around.
Amid the ongoing effort to make downtown Providence a more attractive place to live and work, there's one aspect of day-to-day life that doesn't get talked about a lot: pets.
But if developers and city advocates are correct in estimating more people will choose urban living over suburban life in years to come, more furry friends are bound to follow. How to accommodate them needs to be considered in the construction and designing of the city and its buildings.
"We're trying to create a community, and dogs play a role," said Arnold "Buff" Chace, principal of Cornish Associates LP.
Chace is one of a handful of developers and property owners looking to grow the number of residential units in downtown Providence, which could effectively increase the number of downtown dwellers. The state and city are also trying to encourage more development to spur economic activity, focused on various downtown areas, including the former Interstate 195 land, and other parcels downtown.
In January, R.I. Commerce Corp., which is offering state incentives in exchange for various development projects, approved $7.5 million in Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits and $300,000 in sales tax reimbursements to Cornish. The firm will use the money to turn three historic buildings on Westminster Street into residential units, and to build a new, mixed-use building on Fountain Street.
Chace said when he first started renting out residential units downtown, his firm's policy was "no dogs allowed." But that line of thinking didn't last long, he says, after it became clear that pets – and dogs, especially – were an integral part of people's lives, regardless of location.
Cornish now allows smaller dogs, and he argues making downtown more pet-friendly could help boost economic activity.
"With more dogs, you have more people walking dogs, and with more people – if you're trying to revitalize a neighborhood – you have more activity," he said.
A 2014 survey by Apartments.com
found that 72 percent of renters nationwide owned pets, representing an increase from 43 percent in 2012. Most respondents reported living in pet-friendly apartments, but faced "some difficulty finding an apartment that allows their four-legged friends," according to the survey.
"These trends may increase demand for new apartment construction that includes innovative, pet-friendly spaces, amenities and policies, especially as, over the years, nine out of 10 renters have told us pet policies played a deciding role when choosing where to live," according to Apartments.com.
The trend has translated into noticeable action in other parts of the country, as more residential buildings are allowing pets. But the decision whether to accommodate pets can be tricky, as not everyone is enamored with their presence, which is closely monitored at The Foundry, a 13-building residential and commercial campus adjacent to the Providence Place mall.
Partner Anthony J. "Tony" Thomas says the group ended its policy to allow pets about five years ago, at the request of its tenants.
"We did allow pets under 22 pounds at the time, and then we found the majority of our residents didn't want pets in the building," he said.
Thomas, a self-described pet lover, says they'd be willing to go the other way if it's what residents want, and at times not allowing pets can feel disadvantageous.
"It hurts us, obviously, because we lose that market of residents who have pets, but we try to run the place in the best interest of the tenants that are here, and if the preference is that it's a dog-free building, we'll try to accommodate," he said.
The Foundry, however, isn't having a problem filling space, as the occupancy rate for its 433 residential units exceeds 90 percent, according to Thomas.
Newer complexes, including 95 Lofts at 95 Chestnut St., developed by Waldorf Capital Management LLC, are accepting pets from the get-go, allowing cats and dogs weighing less than 45 pounds (with some breed restrictions). Both Cornish and 95 Lofts require a nonrefundable, one-time pet fee that covers any wear-and-tear that might be caused by the animals.
If the trend continues and translates into a rise in the number of downtown pets, the city too will need to consider its capacity for four-legged animals, especially in terms of recreation and cleanliness. Building owners try to encourage cleaning up after dogs, but not everyone does.
Chace, who offers residents poop bags, would like to see more space designated specifically for dogs, and is eyeing Biltmore Park, adjacent to the Alex and Ani City Center, as a possible location for a dog park. The Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy told Providence Business News the community is exploring changes to the area, and dog parks could be an option, but that nothing is imminent.
Chace envisions the area could become a spot where people could meet, let their dogs play, grab a cup of coffee or snack from North Bakery and enjoy the city.
"We are, and will be, proponents of a dog park downtown, along with our residents who have dogs," he said. "If you're a city watcher, you'll notice that downtown is a wonderful place for people to come together and have social interactions." •