6-story addition, 11 apartment units proposed in historic Providence district

Updated at 6:29 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2021

THIS RENDERING shows the proposed Richmond Residences project, a six-story addition on the back of two existing commercial buildings at 71-85 Richmond St. in Providence, including 11 apartment units, under review by the city's Downtown Design Review Committee. / COURTESY DOWNTOWN DESIGN REVIEW COMMITTEE
THIS RENDERING shows the proposed Richmond Residences project, a six-story addition on the back of two existing commercial buildings at 71-85 Richmond St. in Providence, including 11 apartment units, under review by the city's Downtown Design Review Committee. / COURTESY DOWNTOWN DESIGN REVIEW COMMITTEE

PROVIDENCE – A Providence developer is seeking to tack on a six-story addition to two buildings he owns on Richmond Street that are considered part of a historic district, which requires approval from the Downtown Design Review Committee.

The proposed “Richmond Residences” at 71-85 Richmond St. would be built on the back of two existing commercial buildings and would include 11 apartment units. But the new apartments would feature no on-site parking, according to plans submitted to the review committee.

The project is seeking a “letter of appropriateness” from the committee in order to go forward in a historic district. A preliminary meeting was held Monday at 5 p.m.

The company behind the project is called Seventy One Richmond LLC, led by Rhode Island real estate developer Eli N. Schwartz, who owns the two existing commercial properties on Richmond Street. The architect who created the project plans submitted to the Downtown Design Review Committee is Monika P. Kraemer.

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Kraemer said it was important for the project to make the addition look different than the original buildings, which aren’t historic buildings per se but are part of a historic district.

“The idea is to have the new structure pulled back enough so, at the street level, the two original buildings remain true to themselves, with our new building tucked behind so it appears that it’s another building on another site,” Kraemer said.

The proposed apartment units include studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments.

Kraemer wasn’t immediately able to provide a total cost for the project. Providence Business News also reached out to Schwartz through Kraemer but did not immediately hear back.

As for the lack of on-site parking, Kraemer said there are alternatives. But this shouldn’t stop the project from getting permitted, she said.

“I think we’ll be looking for parking elsewhere,” she said. “The site is extremely tight, as you can see from the plans. Other arrangements will need to be made for that.” 

During the meeting, some members of the Downtown Design Review Committee expressed criticism of the aesthetics of the proposed building facade as described in the renderings for the project.

Rachel Hampton, first alternate member of the committee, said it looks out of place, like “a spaceship” emerging from behind the original 71-73 and 81-85 Richmond St. buildings, which are two stories and three stories tall, respectively. One of those buildings is currently occupied by a dance club, called Kulture, that opened in late May.

“There is a way to do modern beautifully,” Hampton said.

Sharon Steele, a Providence resident, also expressed concerns with the project.

“[The buildings] just don’t match up,” said Steele, who also questioned the sense of a developer building apartments above the Kulture night club. “In the real world, it looks like a box attached to the back of a building.”

The committee members got into the nitty gritty about the face of the proposed addition, debating the amount of glazing that could be used in the windows and the type of materials used for the exterior of the building, which would extend partially over the roof of 71-73 Richmond St.

Schwartz absorbed all the input from the committee members, but said the impression he got from a prior pre-application review was that the committee wanted the new addition to be distinguished from the original properties.

“The vibe was that it was a cool, ghostly, mystical thing behind these historic buildings,” Schwartz said. “We were talking about how it could be ethereal.”

Schwartz said a curtain wall system could soften the presence of the new structure, and that other features could be added to the facade aside from window glazing to enhance its appearance.

“We don’t want to add more visual clutter,” Kraemer said during the meeting. “We want our building to be very streamlined and minimize the amount of materials, that way our building looks very much different than the existing ones.”

Several committee members said they weren’t ready to grant conceptual approval for the project when the submitted renderings don’t reflect the developer’s current sense and description of the proposal. One committee member said the design needs to be more cohesive.

“Well, that’s easily corrected,” Kraemer said.

Seventy One Richmond LLC is now expected to return at a future Downtown Design Review Committee meeting to present a revised proposal, although a date has not yet been set.

(This story has been updated with comments from the Downtown Design Review Committee, Eli N. Schwartz and city residents.)

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com.

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