Brown began sharing plans for the Brook Street residence hall project through a series of community meetings in February 2020. In historic cities like Providence, universities often look at new building projects through the lens of serving the needs of students while contributing to the cultural and economic vitality of the surrounding community. Brown continues to balance this with its dedication to being a good community partner and neighbor.
Members of the community had the opportunity to provide feedback on proposals for the Brook Street project through 12 public meetings from February 2020 to June 2021, which included options to submit written and verbal feedback and ask questions of Brown staff and project architects. In addition, Brown’s Office of Government and Community Relations met privately with many local stakeholders and maintained open lines of communication with the community through multiple revisions of the plan.
These 12 meetings included:
- A June 2020 City Plan Commission meeting and a February 2021 Providence Historic District Commission meeting: Brown significantly revised its plan in April 2021 to directly address core concerns expressed in these meetings. The revised plan replaced parking lots with green spaces, reduced the scale and footprint of the project, and increased setback distance between Power Street and the western building’s southern side.
- Meetings with neighborhood associations and community organizations through July 2021: after receiving additional input from neighbors and community organizations, Brown committed to including a retail space in the west building and pursuing the construction of a new residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets with the goal of a project that is appropriately situated on that corner, holds the residential edge where neighborhood and campus meet, and supports the historical fabric of the street.
While most of the Brook Street residence hall project site is located outside of the Providence Historic District, a small portion of the overall project site at its southern edge — where green space, but no portion of the residence hall buildings will be located — falls within district boundaries. The planned green space is another element about which community members will have opportunities to offer input as the design process continues.
Based on extensive community feedback about building scale, visual transition from the neighborhood to the residence hall site, and overlap with the Providence Historic District, as well as mixed input about a planned retail space, Brown significantly revised its plans to address a number of these concerns directly.
First, the April 2021 revised plan accomplished the following:
- Measurably reduced the size of the project, reducing the above-ground footprint and overall scale of the western building by 16,000 square feet and stepping down both buildings from five stories to three stories on the southern edge to address concerns about the streetscape
- Eliminated approximately 50 beds from the residence halls, with the new plan providing housing for approximately 355 students
- Increased the setback distance between Power Street and the western building’s southern side to move the structure outside of the Providence Historic District boundary and enable a better transition to the local neighborhood
- Eliminated a planned retail space facing Power Street to address concerns about the potential for added pedestrian and vehicle traffic expressed by some members of the local community (however, this was later re-assessed after additional input; see below)
- Added publicly accessible green spaces at the southern end of both buildings to enhance the transition from the residence hall to the surrounding community to complement the neighborhood’s scale and respect the historic district (this also was later re-assessed after further community input; see below)
In July 2021, Brown committed to the following adjustments:
- Returning a retail space to the west building
- Pursuing the construction of a new residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets with the goal of a project that is appropriately situated on a corner, holds the residential edge where neighborhood and campus meet, and sustains the historical fabric of the street.
Brown recognizes that there have been a wide variety of perspectives, often conflicting, from local community neighbors. And while the University can’t address every individual concern, project leaders believe the core elements of the project revisions — replacing parking lots with green space, reducing the scale and footprint of the project, increasing setbacks, restoring retail — respond to key community concerns directly.