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Following Several Redesigns and a Series of Zoning Variances LodgWorks Ready to
 Build 11-story, 161-room Hotel Sierra in Downtown Providence, Rhode Island

By Daniel Barbarisi, The Providence Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 20, 2008 - PROVIDENCE -- Demolition is under way downtown at the future site of a Hotel Sierra, a mid-price hotel whose Kansas developers are banking can fill a gap in Providence's stratified hotel market.

The hotel, formerly known as a Sierra Suites, is to be built between Washington and Fountain streets, tying in with the parking garage next door. It is one of several moderately priced hotel projects now in various stages of completion or development in Providence, where luxury hotels dominate the marketplace.

To build the 11-story, 161-room hotel, LodgeWorks, the developer, needs to knock down two buildings: 149-157 Washington St., a three-story building that once housed the restaurants Cuban Revolution and New Japan, and the bar Talk of the Town, and 132-134 Fountain St., the former site of a McDonald's restaurant.

The demolition contractor, Coventry Wrecking Co., began tearing the back out of the Washington Street building Monday, and continued yesterday. Demolition is expected to take a month, said Matthew T. Marcello III, one of the partners in the deal.

The project is a partnership between LodgeWorks and Civic Center Parking Associates, a consortium of several local developers and lawyers that owns the site and the Civic Center Parking Garage next door. Civic Center Parking Associates also owns the Mercantile Block next door, and plans to sell that to local arts collaborative AS220, which will renovate the building into artists' spaces and leased commercial sites, Marcello said.

The project was first proposed two years ago, but it has taken several redesigns and the granting of a series of zoning variances to get the project to this point. Now, it has its approvals, and the project is ready to obtain a building permit, said LodgeWorks' lawyer David Barricelli of Providence's Hinckley, Allen & Snyder.

The developers are still pricing the project, Barricelli said, and looking to hire a general contractor to oversee it.

"We're ready to go," Barricelli said. "We anticipate starting this construction season," meaning this spring or summer.

LodgeWorks is the owner of more than a dozen Hotel Sierras and Summerfield Suites hotels along the East and West coasts. Sierra Suites sites were renamed Hotel Sierras last year.

The developers envision that the Hotel Sierra will be a good fit for extended-stay travelers because of its proximity to business and convention center activity.

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

Demolition of the 149-157 Washington St. building had been opposed by preservationists, who noted that the building is listed on the National Register as contributing to the historic character of the downtown.

Marcello said that demolition has shown that the three-story building was in poor shape, and that they had not realized how badly the insides had deteriorated until demolition began. The first floor had been occupied by the three restaurants, but the top two floors had been shut and unused for decades.

"This building was rotted out. Nobody's occupied top two floors for 25 years."

Cuban Revolution has since moved to Aborn Street and expanded to a second location in Olneyville, Talk of the Town is preparing to open anew at the end of Atwells Avenue, and New Japan has closed permanently as a result of the building's sale.

The hotel is expected to extend between Fountain and Washington streets and connect directly with the Civic Center Parking Garage; the city has agreed to abandon Beverly Street, an alley between the hotel site and the parking garage.

The first two floors of the hotel would be used for lobby space, the next three would be parking levels, and the top six would be hotel rooms. The parking levels would connect directly with the Civic Center garage, which would also be expanded slightly as part of the project. Between the expansion and the new construction, 150 parking spaces would be created.

The ownership of the site will be split between LodgeWorks and Civic Center. Civic Center will sell LodgeWorks the land, and the Kansas developer will build the hotel. It will then be divided into a condominium with two units: the hotel sections, and the parking sections. The parking sections would then be sold back to Civic Center and incorporated into the existing parking facility.

"When it's done, we'll own the garage areas, they'll own the hotel," Marcello said.

The Hotel Sierra is one of three mid-price hotel projects in motion in Providence, with nightly rates between $150 and $200. A 164-room Four Points Sheraton is proposed on Promenade Street, and a 115-room Hampton Inn is under way at the former Old Colony Bank building on Weybosset Street. The Hampton Inn is expected to be completed at the end of this year.

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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) 2008, The Providence Journal, R.I.

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