What's the Fogarty Building, you say? It's this gem of a building on Fountain Street (sarcasm).
There's a proposal to tear this building down and build a hotel. A lot of this has been covered already at Greater City Providence. This hotel could look like this:
To be totally honest with you, I think this looks really ugly, and I'm not looking forward to this building. But that's not really my issue, here.
A bigger issue that exists is that the Procaccianti Group, which is behind this plan, has a fabled history of knocking buildings down, supposedly for new development, and then not building the new development. Instead what we get is surface parking lots.
Why Join Forces with UNITE-HERE?
Our friends at UNITE-HERE 217 are concerned about this. I think we should cut past the bullshit and be direct: UNITE-HERE is also concerned that Procaccianti runs its hotels in a way that causes high rates of worker injury, and does not generally parlay its high returns into high wages. UNITE-HERE's interest in urban design is probably at least partway about putting pressure on Procaccianti about these goals. That's a conflict of interest that is worth reporting, but in my opinion urbanists should be both pro-development and pro-labor, and I feel no compromise of my ethics to stand with UNITE-HERE (Full disclosure: UNITE-HERE also supports our proposal for a 6/10 Boulevard, which it describes as the best option to get its low income workers into and out of downtown without being dependent on an expensive car). I grew up in a union family, had a history of union activism before I got interested in urban design issues, and I hope people will see this as a logical continuation of my values.
City Council Should Require an NLRB Election
As an aside, I would like a hotel (maybe a nicer looking one, and one, I hope, that doesn't add parking to downtown). I would like to see something built, and I think City Council should make it clear through legislation that any hotel built has to allow an immediate union election, to allow workers the choice of representation if they should want a union (and, for that matter, though UNITE-HERE might not like this, I think options besides UNITE-HERE should be on the table, to give full choice a chance). I think that stance would solve the labor issues upfront. Workers are protected by federal law in their right to choose a union if they wish, but in practice employers use scare tactics and firings to make workers afraid to take that option. City Council should stand by these workers in a way that still allows new development.
This Was a Building, Now It's a Surface Lot
RISD grad David Byrne has the hopeful song Nothing But Flowers about a future society that abandons a paved paradise for one that's more beautiful and human. Procaccianti has done the opposite. It has bought many a building--some of them ugly like Fogarty, but some of them quite handsome and functional--and knocked them down, supposedly for new development. Then, after the buildings have been knocked to the ground, what does Providence actually get? Parking lots!
Fool me once, shame on you:
Fool me twice, shame on me:
But fool me three times?
What We Should Do
Today, the Design Review Committee will decide if Procaccianti can demolish Fogarty. We should have no attachment to the Fogarty Building, but we should require that a demolition come with added requirements:
Providence City Government should require Procaccianti to address the two parking lots it already owns and operates (on the former Safety Complex, and at the former Gulf Station). Procaccianti should be required to make temporary green spaces on these sites before allowing the group to develop anything in the city. The group lied to city officials twice about its intentions, and now it is land-banking parcels that used to be city landmarks, until such time as it can get a big win and develop exactly what it wants. It is, in the meantime, adding to our surface parking crisis.
The Providence City Government should require that the new hotel come with a bond for any future upkeep of the site as a green space should it fail to become a hotel. This is not an unfair request: Salt Lake City requires this of any building torn down for new development. Consider it a deposit, and one that is obviously returned to the developer if it keeps its promise to build a building.
If Procaccianti develops a hotel, it should be with the requirement of a union election, with a range of choices for representation that workers can choose from, or reject outright, to satisfy the rights granted under the NLRA.
If Procaccianti knocks down a building and puts a surface lot in its place, it should be taxed at the full rate that the highest development of that land would be taxed. Developers should not be rewarded for land-banking through surface parking lots. Providence should likewise work as cooperatively as possible with developers like Procaccianti for actual development.
Providence should pass a parking lot tax, like Pittsburgh's, and should guarantee within the same legislation that 100% of proceeds from such a tax should go to lowering property taxes on adjacent properties. The city suffers from high taxes and a climate that makes development difficult, but it also fails to tax surface lots enough, and it has a serious issue in providing for needed services like public schooling. A parking lot tax with a full dividend is the way out of this mess.
Make sure you participate in the Meeting Today: 444 Westminster Street, 4:45 PM. Of course, as per usual, city meetings are set to such convenient times! So, if you cannot participate in the meeting directly, please email me with a statement at email@example.com. I will be more than happy to forward your statement to the commission, and to UNITE-HERE.