Providence should not let past strangle its future potential

By rejecting the Fain Organization’s proposed changes to zoning in the Interstate 195 Redevelopment District, the Providence City Plan Commission seems to be more interested in embracing the past than charting the city’s future.

The proposed alterations would allow Fain to develop a 46-story residential and commercial project along Dyer Street.

The tower represents a complete departure from the norms in Providence. Besides its height, its design is strikingly postmodern. It is an audacious proposal.

In addition to asking to change the maximum height of buildings to 600 feet from 100 feet in the district, Fain was looking to similarly change the zoning for an adjacent parcel, among other things. The changes would allow Fain to develop a second tower without appearing before the commission again.

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In rejecting the proposal, commission member Luis Torrado, an architect appointed by Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, said that what will “make the city special is to keep what has made it special all along.”

There is no question that preservation of the city’s architectural heritage is key to Providence’s sense of place.

But in a world that rewards audacity with investment and growth, both things that Providence is seeing precious little of, it should be embraced, not rejected.

The city and the developer should compromise and strike a deal. Instead of a 600-foot project, two 300-foot towers – which would be the tallest buildings in the state – would make enough of a statement, telling the world that Providence welcomes audacious thinking and embraces it, without forgetting its past.