If all of this sounds, well, kind of hipster-y, you wouldn’t be the first one to notice. In recently months, two high-profile publications have used the h-word when describing The Dean. Travel + Leisure picked the hotel as a prime exhibit of downtown’s “emerging hipster culture” when they ranked Providence the #4 “Best City for Hipsters” in their November issue. (Other evidence included the vegan cuisine at The Grange on Broadway and ceramic poodles sold at Rocket to Mars.) The New York Times’ T magazine followed suit with a blurb describing The Dean as the inevitable “vintage-y, self-consciously cool hotel” to arrive in a town they called a “petri dish for eggheads, design wunderkinds and culinary aspirants.” “In Providence, a Hipster Hotel in a Former Brothel,” the headline announced.
But despite all the aforementioned stuff, we’re actually most interested in The Dean for two separate reasons. First, is simply the price. However you react to The Dean’s online marketing — “WHO ARE WE? A cultural authority, A source of relevant knowledge, A hub in a university community, A figurehead for future generations, An established & trustworthy mentor,” their Facebook page reads — it’s tough not to root for affordability. These days, when the average nightly room rate in Providence hovers around $150, rooms at The Dean will start at $79 for a room that sleeps two guests in a bunk bed. Christine West, an the architect from the Providence firm, KITE, that helped The Dean “scrape away the awfulness” from the premises, says that the hotel will be a place for folks “with more taste than money.”
And then there’s the story of Fountain Street, which is, in turn, the story of Providence in the last two decades, according to Providence Preservation Society board president and former AS220 director of real estate development Lucie Searle, a consultant on The Dean project. Searle rings off a long list of similarly re-imagined and refurbished buildings downtown, from RISD’s Fleet Library to the Arcade to the Providence Gas Building to the Shepherd Building to AS220’s trio of repurposed buildings. “I’ve always sort of looked at our downtown has having what I call The Three Ws,” she says. “Weybosset, Westminster, and Washington. Each one of them has undergone significant enough improvement that they’ve turned a corner. And I think we can say this about Fountain Street now.”
That said, she acknowledges that there’s still at least one hurdle to leap before the street is fully revitalized: finding a use for the abandoned, crumbling, Brutalist-style Fogarty Building across the street from The Dean. Ari Heckman has an idea. “How amazing would it be if someone took that building and made it the Providence Museum of Contemporary Art?” he says.