With galas, gardens, and grants, the WBNA turns 30

West Side Story
By PHILIP EIL  |  September 4, 2013

'THIS IS A PLACE FOR EVERYONE' Fertile Underground.

The lot is a quarter of an acre in size. The building, a “typical 3-bay automotive repair garage with [a] small office,” has 1984 square feet of space. The re-use of the building cannot be a liquor store, a school, a public recreation facility, a housing development (unless it’s mixed-use), or another automotive repair shop. The rest, however, is more or less a choose-your-own-adventure situation. “[W]e are open to proposals for restaurants, retail stores, start-ups, non-profit organizations, or other businesses targeted to the community,” the report says.

We’re quoting from the Request for Proposals for the future re-use of 1326 Westminster Street on the West Side of Providence, a call issued in July by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, which owns the space. Earlier this year, the EPA awarded the WBNA a $200,000 brownfields cleanup grant to rehabilitate the site. What happens after that? If you submit your proposal before the September 18 deadline, you may be able to help decide.

The project, which solicits community input for the creative re-use of an existing building, with a high-profile grant tossed into the mix, is vintage WBNA. The organization, which turns 30 this year, has a knack for making successful grants — for new street lamps on Westminster Street; for the installation of cobblestones, a fountain, and an outdoor seating area in Luongo Square, a project scheduled for completion in 2014 — seemingly fall from the sky.

If you’re not familiar with their work, the upcoming weeks provide ample opportunity to get better acquainted. This Saturday, September 7, the WBNA will co-host their third annual “Neighbor Days” festival in Luongo Square, featuring food trucks, live music, and an appearance by Providence’s Rock ’n’ Roll Yard Sale. A month later, on October 19, the association will host a 30th Anniversary Gala offering a rare peek — not to mention a chance to dance, drink, and mingle — inside what WBNA executive director Kari Lang calls “our community castle,” the Cranston Street Armory.

We caught up with Lang recently for a chat at WBNA headquarters, which itself is a renovated auto repair shop Westminster Street.

Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

HOW HAS THIS AREA CHANGED IN THE WBNA’S 30 YEARS? Gosh, looking back, you wish we had done a better job in measuring it, like how many hundreds of trees neighbors have planted, and how many open businesses there are [now], how many renovated homes there are. We figure we brought in, with our efforts and working with others, about $15 million to the neighborhood.

[But] I think one of the biggest things that I notice, in terms of how the neighborhood’s changed, is how many people you see walking on the street. There’s a comfort level for people to walk and there’s that kind of sense of community that we have that I don’t know if there used to be before. We have a new playground and that’s the second playground we’ve built. This is the second most heavily used park in the city of Providence after Roger Williams Park, according to superintendent Bob McMahon.

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