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Providence Preservation Society Calls Proposed 162 room Sierra Suites Hotel Out of Scale and Unattractive;
Developers Plan to Redesign the Hotel to Incorporate the Visual Character
 of the Downtown  Provdence Neighborhood
By Cathleen F. Crowley, The Providence Journal, R.I.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jan. 10, 2006 - PROVIDENCE -- A group of city businessmen have partnered with a national hotel company to build an 11-story, 162-room hotel in downtown Providence.

The developers say it will transform Washington Street, but the Providence Preservation Society and several city residents called the proposed hotel out of scale and unattractive.

"It looks like something you might find along a highway to an airport," said Jack A. Gold, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society. "It has no relationship to the city of Providence."

The Civic Center Parking Associates, who run the Majestic Center Parking Garage, have teamed up with LodgeWorks of Wichita, Kan. The developers presented their building plan for a Sierra Suites Hotel last night at the Downcity Review Committee meeting.

The hotel would be built on what is now a parking lot on Washington Street near Trinity Repertory Company, and the developers seek to demolish two buildings to make room for it. The extended-stay hotel would be made of brick and precast concrete and stand 130 feet high, twice as high as nearby buildings.

"We are eager to take your comments and run with them," said Denny Meikleham, senior vice president of development for LodgeWorks.

The developers were seeking approval from the committee last night to demolish the two buildings: 149-157 Washington Street, a three-story building that houses two restaurants and a pub -- Cuban Revolution, New Japan, and Talk of the Town -- and 132-134 Fountain St., the vacant McDonald's restaurant.

Several residents and some committee members found the proposed hotel design lacking.

Committee member Glen Fontecchio, an architect and chairman of the Historic District Commission, said the design created dead space on the street that would hurt pedestrian traffic. The deadening effect of the proposed hotel was created by the "big holes" of side-by-side parking entrances and a main hotel entrance located in a tunnel instead of on the street.

The developers designed an interior drop-off lane inside the building to keep traffic from backing up on the main streets. The lane would run from Washington to Fountain streets, on what is now Beverly Street. The developers plan to ask the city to abandon portions of Beverly and Martha streets.

The wedge-shaped hotel would have a Washington Street address and the rear would border Fountain Street. The Fountain Street side would have two car portals, but no pedestrian entrance.

Fontecchio raised concerns about demolishing the New Japan building, which is listed on the National Register as contributing to the historic character of the downtown district.

"Providence isn't a city that is just historic because it has architectural gems, it is [historic] because so much of the city is intact," he said. "The fabric of the city, the scale of the streets are intact."

Lucie Searle, project manager for AS220's restoration of the Dreyfus Hotel, said the proposal would detract from AS220's historical renovation and the street as a whole.

Meikleham said repeatedly that LodgeWorks would revise the building design to better suit the neighborhood.

But as far as the New Japan building, the Providence lawyer representing LodgeWorks challenged its historic value.

Though records from the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission say the building was constructed in the 1920s. Lawyer David D. Barricelli said city records show that the building burned down in 1929, and the current one was rebuilt at an unknown time. The upper floors of the building are currently empty and are in poor condition.

Barricelli said it's not like the Declaration of Independence was signed there.

"It's more of a visual historic presence, it isn't the building per se," he said.

Barricelli said LodgeWorks' architect could redesign the hotel to incorporate the visual character of the neighborhood.

LodgeWorks owns and operates more than a dozen Sierra Suites Hotels and Summerfield Suites Hotels along the East and West coasts. The executives of LodgeWorks are the founders of the extended-hotel concept. They developed the Residence Inn and sold it to Marriott Corp.

Meikleham said downtown Providence is perfect for extended-stay travelers because of its proximity to business and convention center activity. Extended-stay travelers are defined as hotel guests who stay longer than four days.

The Civic Center Parking Associates own the property that the proposed hotel would be built on. The company has operated the parking garage for 20 years, in addition to developing other properties in the city.

The principals of the Parking Associates are Joseph DiBattista, Matthew T. Marcello III, Ed Ritchie, and the Bliss family, which owns Warwick Mall.

Marcello said the Associates had purchased the properties around the garage in hopes of expanding the garage someday, but LodgeWorks came to them with the hotel proposal, he said.

The developers will bring another draft of the hotel design to the committee next month.

"We wanted feedback. We got it and we'll fix it," Meikleham said. "We'll come back and it will be a beautiful building."

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To see more of the The Providence Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.projo.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Providence Journal, R.I.

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