In 1828 the Westminster Arcade opened in the heart of downtown Providence, built by the duo of James Bucklin and Russell Warren. Designed in the style of a Greek temple, it is the oldest enclosed shopping mall still open in the United States. The strong Ionic columns on the exterior facing Westminster St. stand across from the art deco centerpiece which is the city’s iconic Industrial Trust Tower, Providence’s Superman Building.
The Arcade fell in to a state of disrepair after many years and was renovated and reopened in 1980, just a few years after being named a National Historic Landmark in 1976. It wasn’t until 2008 that the mall would be closed again for another major undertaking. During that time the U.S. economy was in the middle of one of the worst beatings it has taken since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Businesses and residences were beginning to scale back, and an abundance of space was simply seen as an excess. It was this time that thinking big meant going smaller.
After Bank of America moved it’s offices out of the twenty-eight story tower in April of this year, two of downtown Providence’s most outstanding and important buildings were sitting vacant. What could be said of a city that has so much downtown space, enclosed in two of it’s most famous landmarks, being unused? While plans to change the tower in to a mix of apartments and offices are discussed, The Arcade has nearly completed it’s renovations.
Very soon the Arcade Providence will be reopening it’s doors, with the official twitter account of the property, @Arcadeprov, saying that the “wait is nearly over!!” last week. What it will bring is a gust of innovative use of an already-standing building. Instead of it’s previous direction using it’s three floors entirely for commercial space, only the first floor will be featuring storefronts and restaurants in 14 spaces. The other two floors will be turned in to micro-apartments, giving the heart of downtown Providence 48 new housing units.
The afford-ability of living downtown for many people is simply out of reach. While Providence is home to some of the top colleges and universities in the country, it is unlikely that many of the students can afford to live in the city after they graduate. What these new 225 to 450 square foot apartments (starting at $550 per month) will do is allow for people to stay in the city after they finish their degree, helping to keep many of the most talented and brightest minds instead of hemorrhaging it’s young adults outside the state lines to cities which have more affordable living options. And those who find themselves living there when the space opens up will find they need to move in very little, as many amenities are including in the apartments.
The revival of historic buildings in downtown Providence is key in the city retaining it’s cultural history and for it to be a contender in wooing new businesses in from out-of-state. With the Arcade Providence taking a new direction and spearheading the city’s first major micro-apartment plan, it could be a huge step in revitalizing and growing the downtown area of Providence. Keeping young adults and bright minds, and their wallets, in the heart of the city is important for the future economic growth of the Creative Capital.