Providence City Plan Commission approves Brown University’s proposed master plan

Updated at 4:02 p.m. on Sept. 20

MEMBERS OF the Providence City Planning Commission are scheduled to vote on Brown University’s proposed Institutional Master Plan during a meeting Tuesday evening./AP FILE PHOTO/STEVEN SENNE

PROVIDENCE – The Providence City Plan Commission Tuesday night approved Brown University’s proposed Institutional Master Plan.

The university updates its master plan every five years and unveiled its most recent proposal in June. Among the key construction projects outlined in the proposal are a new integrated life sciences building in the Jewelry District and an indoor athletics facility.

Both these projects will need approval from the city. Community members have also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the plans throughout several meetings with Brown staff throughout the summer.

Overall, commissioners were impressed with the updated master plan and praised the university for its continued investments into the community.

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The proposed integrated life sciences building would be a seven-story research facility located in the Jewelry District on Richmond Street across from the Warren Alpert Medical School and near Brown’s School of Public Health.

Spanning approximately 300,000-square-feet, the building would include lab space for approximately 76 new and existing faculty members in six program subjects. Along with offices and collaboration spaces, the plans also include public spaces and café that are open to the public on the ground floor.

In its current phase, the building is expected to add 195 new employees to the Jewelry District, according to the most recent version of the plan. To make way for the facility, Brown has proposed demolishing the two university-owned buildings and corresponding parking lots at 233 and 261 Richmond St.

The project is currently in its pre-construction phase during which the building programming and design concepts will be assessed and refined, Brown University spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in a statement to Providence Business News. There is no clear timeline for the project yet, but the university estimates construction will take between three to four years to complete, Clark wrote.

The proposal expands upon Brown’s efforts to increase research output as well as the university’s footprint in the Jewelry District.

As of June, the university has invested $341 million in dozens of projects in the neighborhood over the past few decades. Many have welcomed the Brown’s investments into the Jewelry District, citing economic benefits the Ivy League university has brought including more jobs and capital.

However, others have expressed concerns about Brown taking taxable properties off the market. Clark noted that the integrated life sciences building is not expected to take anything off the city’s tax rolls because it would be located on Brown-owned property that was purchased from the nonprofit health system, Care New England. Because it is a nonprofit institution, the university is exempt from paying taxes on its noncommercial properties and instead contributes to the city through a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement.

Most recently, the university along with Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson & Wales University and Providence College agreed to contribute more than $200 million in voluntary payments to Providence over the next 20 years. The tentative agreement, which was announced on Sept. 5, is more than double the institutions’ previous contributions to the city which totaled $94 million. Brown also has a separate agreement through which the university will make additional payments to the city of $46 million over 10 years.

“Brown has been an extraordinary partner,’ said Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association. “They [Brown University] have answered whatever questions people have had.”

Also included in the master plan is a 76,000-square-foot indoor athletics facility that would replace the “underutilized” Meister-Kavan Field behind the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center.

The facility will and include a new turf to serve as indoor practice space for several sports including football, lacrosse, soccer, rugby and field hockey. Moving current sports activities into the indoor facility is also expected to lessen noise impacts on surrounding residential neighborhoods, according to a university press release issued in June.

The university is currently in the process of selecting an architect, a spokesperson for Brown told commissioners during the meeting. Construction for the facility is projected to last approximately 18 months and begin in summer 2024, according to the press release.

(Update: Story updated with results of Tuesday’s meeting)

(Update: Subs 11th paragraph to clarify life sciences building on Brown property which is part of PILOT agreement with city)

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