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Downtown Providence Policy

Sometimes, what we write here on Brown Political Review can seem distant for the average Brown Student. What is a Brown student to do about Syria or targeted drone strikes?  I will admit readily to not being as brave as Malala.  However, if you want to see the effects of some policy decisions here in Rhode Island, go downtown and check out the newly reopened Providence Arcade.

The Arcade was one of America’s first enclosed shopping malls. It was named this long before video games were invented, but when Arcade meant “indoor public shopping space.”  Built in 1828, the building looks like a Greek temple.  Inside, beautiful wrought iron soars upwards to skylights high above.  It looks lovely.  And, you can live there!  The bottom floor is retail, but the top two floors are micro-loft apartments for those willing to live cheaply in a small space with no stove.  Apparently, many people want this, judging by the fact that every unit has been leased.  Once all the tenants move in, I predict a good burst of activity downtown (or, Downcity as the locals call it).  The increased residential density will bring some life and some extra spending to the Downcity area.

Rhode Island policy shaped the redevelopment the Arcade.  This lovely restoration was funded with 22 percent historic preservation tax credit.  This means 22 percent of the cost is covered by a voucher the restorer can use against its taxes or sell to someone else who wishes to reduce his or her tax burden.  The program includes a cap for any one project at $5 million in credits.  Historic tax credits are a clever way for the government to subsidize good activities without actually making an outlay.

Last year, Rhode Island had a bit of a political scuffle over historic tax credits.  The program had been closed for a few years after the laws enacting the credits had expired.

This is a timely action by the Rhode Island Legislature.  In a highway project similar to Boston’s “Big Dig” Providence rerouted its interstates to unify its downtown.  Previously, the old jewelry manufacturing district had been cut off from the rest of downtown.  Since I-195 was moved, there should be a surge in applications, now that so many more historic buildings are connected to downtown. Perhaps someone will even use the credits to open a grocery store.  As I wrote in a previous post, I believe a real grocery store would help convince the next wave of people to move downtown.

Many of the debates on Brown Political Review can seem well past the reach of a typical student.  However, if you want to support people rehabilitating lovely old buildings here in Providence, next time you are going to study, take your gear downtown and buy a coffee at the new shop in the Arcade’s New Harvest Coffee Roasters, and study there.  Keep your money local and get your homework done.  What could be better?

About the Author

Graham Sheridan is a second year candidate in the Master's in Public Affairs program here at Brown. He went to undergraduate school at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA and hails from Greensboro, NC.