Yet it would be a very questionable victory if Providence’s fortunes rise at the cost of eliminating opportunities — like those that once enabled a young Brown grad named Rich Lupo to establish the first incarnation of his rock club, or for a bunch of young artists to establish the fabled former underground collective known as Fort Thunder.
Downtown — ignoring a possible solution
To 29-year-old Ashley Mercado, the things that inspire the ire of some of her fellow downtown residents are predictable parts of her living environment, and not a palpable threat to her personal safety. “What do you think is going to happen? When people have been drinking, they’re going to run around and be loud and boisterous,” says Mercado, the publisher of the alternative periodical the Agenda. “Cities are supposed to have noise, they’re supposed to have high traffic.” When it comes to the apparent goal of making downtown “nice and quiet, but also a hub,” she asks, “How do you make that happen?”
This outlook seems to be a distinctly minority view, though, among the new breed of residents who are populating downtown and the Jewelry District, many of whom are well-heeled empty-nesters if not on the far side of 40. A number of Mercado’s neighbors in the Conrad Building, at Westminster and Empire, are vexed, for example, by problems they attribute to the adjacent Finnegan’s Wake, a bar and restaurant.
As president of the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance, Maria Ruggieri, a jewelry designer who moved to the Smith Building from Pawtuxet Village in 2000, speaks for many of the new residents. A longtime concertgoer at Lupo’s, Ruggieri cites the importance of a vibrant live music scene and strong cultural nightlife. This can only occur, she says, “in an environment where the safety of not only the patrons, but the residents and visitors as well” is assured. While Ruggieri says she bears no animus against Club Diesel, she blames the club for the “absolute chaos in the late hours” — fights, screaming, and the smashing of bottles and windows — on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. “It’s got to the point where you can just count on it consistently,” says Ruggieri, who calls on Diesel to be a more responsible neighbor.
Providence Journal op-ed columnist David Brussat, who has lived in the Smith Building since 1999, says the problems associated with nightlife are more than just what should occur in an active city center. But the larger problem, he says, is how thousands of patrons leave clubs all at once and how the city fails to “seriously address the problems caused by the patrons, as opposed to by the clubs.” Although the police could change the behavior of troublemakers by cracking down on the misbehavior of individuals, Brussat says, in an allusion to Diesel owner Mike Kent, “I think that they’re cracking down on the wrong person.”
Beyond Brussat and the Phoenix, some pretty thoughtful people, including urban theorist Andres Duany and Bert Crenca, AS220’s artistic director, among other downtown arts supporters, have supported the concept of extending Provi¬dence’s closing time, without additional alcohol sales, until 4 am. Sadly, the city steers clear of even considering a three-month pilot program.