When Granoff Associates announced plans in May to renovate the Arcade in downtown Providence, tenants in the building — some who had been there for more than 20 years — got a scant 30 days’ notice. After Councilman Luis Aponte and some of his colleagues asked for more time, some of the tenants got an extension until September 1.

Lisa Carnevale, co-director of the artist and small business advocacy group Partnership for Creative Industrial Space (PCIS), says the Arcade Building situation “felt pretty typi-cal” in terms of development-related displacement in Providence.

The eviction of small businesses has been one unintended consequence of the historic tax credit and other development incentives for historic buildings.
With Aponte’s support, PCIS spearheaded the new Industrial and Commercial Buildings District Tenant Relocation Ordinance, signed by Mayor David N. Cicilline in April, to protect small businesses that rent space in historic buildings.

The ordinance requires developers seeking to renovate historic properties to give their tenants 90 days notice and a relocation stipend of between $2500 and $10,000, depending on how many people they employ. If developers don’t comply, they lose the opportunity to receive city-based funding or tax subsidies. Since this restriction applies to the property itself, future owners would face the same sanction, so developers would actually devalue their property if they ignored the ordinance, according to PCIS co-director Erik Bright.

The Arcade building was not on the list of protected buildings in the Industrial and Commercial Buildings District, though it is due to be added to the list in September. By then, the tenants will be gone.

It is unclear how much the ordinance will impact future development projects, especially since it only originally applied only to the ICBD, a list of more than 220 historic industrial and commercial buildings. “We haven’t had a chance to really test it,” Bright says.

But Carnevale is optimistic. She says she thinks the ordinance will be a “PR reminder” to developers, who now know they might receive more attention if they fail to give ten-ants facing displacement more notice. 

Aponte says the ordinance “serves notice to anyone who wants to develop here that the city is not going to subsidize the displacement of small businesses.”

Bright says he wishes the ordinance had been passed before the renovation last year of the Carpenter Mill building on Carpenter Street in Providence, which resulted in the dis-placement of the small businesses that rented space there.

Chris Bull, who rented space for his custom bicycle business, Circle A Cycles (circleacycles.com), says he started looking at new space before renovation were officially an-nounced. Bull says it took him two months to move into his new space.

“There’s no question in my mind that it would have put me out of business if I had had 30 days’ notice,” Bull says.

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