The more things change, the more they stay the same

The artist-development clash, as seen through the Phoenix archives
By IAN DONNIS  |  September 14, 2006

In December 2000, the threat to replace Fort Thunder and other old mills in Eagle Square with a bland strip mall attracted a broad and spirited opposition movement:

“If nothing else, the kind of organized, intelligent protest that greeted the Feldo Development proposal served notice that the city hasn’t done enough to prioritize affordable housing for artists and the preservation of historic mill buildings. ‘I think this was a wake-up call for us,’ acknowledges John Palmieri, Providence’s director of Planning and Development. The presence of so many people at the Plan Commission meeting, and the strength of their arguments, made it abundantly clear, he says, ‘that these older mill buildings have to be reviewed and assessed,’ while looking at the needs of the arts community. ‘We have an obligation to respond quickly.’

From “Dig the new breed,” published December 14, 2000:

In August 2001, then-Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. was enraged when the Phoenix reported on how the city had dismissed Bill Struever’s alternative development plan for Eagle Square.

“[Struever’s lack of rights for the property] doesn’t mean, however, that the city is powerless when it comes to the future of a strategic chunk of land laden with historically significant buildings and incredible potential. On the contrary, it was the misguided notion of putting a cookie-cutter development on this site -- a violation, as critics argued, of the city’s comprehensive plan -- that triggered such passionate resistance. It seems remarkable that Cianci, whose popularity is closely tied to the reinvention of Providence as an urban mecca, once seemed relatively untroubled by Feldco’s original plan. And although officials may have once approved dubious developments, rather than letting vacant property languish, the city’s bargaining position has improved considerably with the advent of a state law that makes tax credits available for renovations to historic properties.”

From “Crunch time,” published August 2, 2001:

By February 2003, Struever had become a villain to artists and other critics in Olneyville, who perceived the Rising Sun development on Valley Street, amid a worsening statewide housing crisis, as a harbinger of gentrification. Struever and other developers responded by citing new housing as a much-needed source of investment.

“Regardless of the merits, it’s still no wonder that artists like Brian Chippendale, the drummer in Lightning Bolt, who relocated to a mill building in Olneyville Square after being displaced by Feldco’s project, feel under the gun. ‘It seems like someone dropped a rock on Eagle Square and it’s coming down toward us,’ Chippendale says. ‘It used to be in Providence, you could live really cheaply and make art. What this is going to do is to weed out a lot of artists who are just starting out.’

From “Where will people live?” published February 7, 2003:

During a bitter cold streak in January 2004, Chippendale and about 60 other artists and musicians were abruptly evicted from a sub-code Olneyville residential-performance hotspot, a reflection of heightened official anxiety after the Station fire disaster.

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Related: Clash on the Providence waterfront, Concern grows on downtown demo, Tensions remain hot on west side development, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Social Issues, Economic Development, Economic Issues,  More more >
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