Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island

Downtown is the central economic, political, and cultural district of the city of Providence, Rhode Island. It is bounded on the east by Canal Street and the Providence River, to the north by Smith Street, to the west by Interstate 95, and to the south by Henderson Street. The highway serves as a physical barrier between the city's commercial core and neighborhoods of Federal Hill, West End, and Upper South Providence. Most of the downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Downtown Providence Historic District.

Downtown Providence Historic District
Downtown Providence Rhode Island 2008.jpg
Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island is located in Providence
Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island
Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island is located in Rhode Island
Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island
Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island is located in the United States
Downtown, Providence, Rhode Island
LocationProvidence, Rhode Island
Coordinates41°49′N 71°25′W / 41.82°N 71.41°W / 41.82; -71.41Coordinates: 41°49′N 71°25′W / 41.82°N 71.41°W / 41.82; -71.41
Area90 acres (36 ha)
Architectural styleLate 19th and early 20th century American movements, late Victorian
NRHP reference No.84001967[1] (original)
07001081 (increase 1)
12000438 (increase 2)
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 10, 1984
Boundary increasesOctober 11, 2007
July 25, 2012
Location of Downtown Providence within Providence


Originally known as "Weybossett Neck" or "Weybossett Side", Downtown was first settled by religious dissidents from the First Congregational Society in 1746. Their settlement was located near present-day Westminster Street.[2]

Downtown did not witness substantial development until the early 19th century, when Providence began to compete with Newport, Rhode Island. British forces had destroyed much of Newport during the American War for Independence, making that city's merchants vulnerable to competition from Providence.[2] This[clarification needed] prevented the development of a commercial district along the western bank of the Providence River.

Interstate highwaysEdit

Starting in 1956, construction began on both Interstate 195 and Interstate 95.[3][4] The routes of these two large highways took them directly through several established Providence neighborhoods. Over the next several years, hundreds of homes and businesses and two churches were demolished.[5] The highways isolated Downtown from the South Providence, West End, Federal Hill, and Smith Hill neighborhoods, leaving the city divided.[5][3][4]

Decline: 1960s and 1970sEdit

Providence's population declined from a peak of 253,504 in 1940 to only 179,213 in 1970.[5] The white middle class moved away from the city center, and businesses followed.[5] A downtown address no longer conveyed prestige.[5] By 1970, downtown was widely seen as a dangerous place to be after dark, lacked sufficient parking, and most shopping and movie-going moved to the suburbs.[5] A 1961 master plan called Downtown 1970 recommended massive bulldozing of properties.[5] As hotels and stores were abandoned, Johnson and Wales University purchased many of the vacant properties.[5]

In 1964, Westminster Street was converted to the pedestrianized "Westminster Mall", in an attempt to create a pleasant shopping environment downtown.[5] However, this project was unable to attract shoppers away from the new suburban Midland Mall (1968) and Warwick Mall (1972).[5] Within a decade, all the street's major department stores had closed except Woolworth's, and in 1989 the pedestrian mall was torn up and the street was returned to vehicular traffic.[5]

Remaking downtownEdit

The Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge opened in summer 2019

During the industrialization of the late 19th century, an ever-expanding railroad industry emanated from Union Station, eventually resulting in the complete paving over of the Great Salt Cove and the two branches of the Providence River.[6] The result of decades of expansion was the isolation of the state Capitol from the rest of downtown by an imposing mass of railroad tracks, often locally referred to as the "Chinese Wall".[7] As rail traffic dropped off 75 percent by 1980,[8] city planners saw an opportunity to open up central land for development and re-unify downtown with the Capitol. A new, smaller train station was built in 1986, located 0.5 miles (0.80 km) north of its predecessor, and tracks were removed or routed underground.

The new land precipitated a massive remaking of the character of the city's downtown. From 1975 until 1982, under Mayor Vincent Cianci, Jr, $606 million of local and national Community Development funds were invested. Roads were removed and the city's natural rivers were opened up and lined with a cobblestone-paved park called Waterplace Park in 1994, which became host to popular WaterFire festivals.[9] Private and public developments followed, and the new area adjacent to the Capitol became known as "Capitol Center".[10]

Ushered in by the construction of the new train station (1986), development brought new buildings: The Gateway Building (1990), One Citizens Plaza (1991), Center Place (1992), a Westin hotel and Providence Convention Center (1993), Providence Place Mall (1999), Courtyard Marriott (2000), GTECH headquarters (2006), The Residences at the Westin (2007), Waterplace Towers condominiums (2007), and Capitol Cove still under construction.[when?]

In 2007, the Renaissance Providence Hotel opened in the Masonic Temple building, which had been abandoned amidst the Great Depression a half century prior.[11]

The relocation of Interstate 195 (the "Iway" project) in the early 2000s sparked another boom of construction in the 2010s, including the Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge, which spans the Providence River, and the Point 225 building in 2019[12] (aka "Wexford Innovation Center"), designed by Ayers Saint Gross,[13] and a riverfront park. As of September 2020, several other buildings in the area are under construction or proposed.[14]


According to the Providence Plan, a local nonprofit aimed at improving city life, 64% of residents are white and 8.6% are Asian (both above the citywide averages of 54.4% and 6.2% respectively), 12% of the population is African-American, 11% is Hispanic, and 1% is Native American; 43% of public school children speak a language other than English as their primary language.[15][needs update]

The median family income is $42,558, over $10,000 above the citywide average, but 14% of families live below the poverty line while nearly 3.7% receive some form of public assistance.[15] A further problem is that 15% of children under the age of six have been exposed to high quantities of lead.[15][needs update]


From north to south, Downtown includes portions of Wards 12, 13, 11, which are represented in the Providence City Council by Kat Kerwin, John J. Lombardi, and Balbina A. Young.[16][needs update] All three councillors are Democrats.

Providence City Hall is located at 25 Dorrance Street, at the corner of Dorrance and Washington Street. It is immediately next to Kennedy Plaza and the Biltmore Hotel. It houses the City Council, the Mayor's Office, and the offices of some municipal agencies.

The Rhode Island State House is located on Smith Street at the northern edge of Downtown. It includes the chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly and the Governor's Office.

The Rhode Island Department of Education is headquartered in the Shepard Company Building at 255 Westminster Street.[17]


The Shepard Company Building is a historic former department store which is now used by the University of Rhode Island

Various universities have facilities in Downtown Providence. These include:


NCAA hockey action at the Dunkin' Donuts Center

The Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, and the Providence College Friars men's basketball team play out of the Dunkin' Donuts Center (formerly the Providence Civic Center) at 1 LaSalle Square.[23]


As part of the revitalization of Providence, the administrations of Mayors Vincent Cianci and David Cicilline have promoted the city, especially its "Downcity Arts District", as an artistic center. WaterFire, perhaps the most visible symbol of Providence's development, is an environmental art event created by Barnaby Evans which includes bonfires, gondolas, and music. This event has become a major attraction for both Rhode Islanders and tourists from farther away.

The Downcity Arts District includes two centers for the performing arts: the Providence Performing Arts Center and Trinity Repertory Company.[24][25]

The Downcity Arts District is also home to AS220, a non-profit community arts center that includes 53 artist live/work studios, four galleries, a performance space, a black box theatre, a dance studio, a bar, and restaurant. There is also a makerspace consisting of a printshop, fab lab, media arts lab, and darkroom, with a free after-school arts education program for youth.


Downtown Providence has numerous 19th-century mercantile buildings in the Federal and Victorian architectural styles, as well as several post-modern and modernist buildings that are located throughout this area. In particular, a fairly clear spatial separation appears between the areas of pre-1980s and post-1980s development; Fountain Street and Exchange Terrace serve as rough boundaries between the two.


Downtown Providence contains several parks:

In addition, Veterans Memorial Park and Market Square, along the border between Downtown and College Hill, are sometimes counted as Downtown parks.

Central DowntownEdit

One Financial Plaza, 50 Kennedy Plaza, and the "Superman Building" stand along the southern edge of Kennedy Plaza

The historic part of downtown has many streetscapes that still look as they did 80 years ago. Most of the state's tallest buildings are found in this area. The largest structure, to date, is the art-deco-styled Industrial National Bank Building (commonly called the "Superman Building"), at 426 feet (130 m).[27] A nearby contrast is the second-tallest One Financial Center (Sovereign Bank Tower), designed in modern taut-skin cladding, constructed a half-century later.[28] In between the two is 50 Kennedy Plaza. The Textron Tower is another core building in the Providence skyline.

Downtown is also the home of the Providence Biltmore hotel and the Westminster Arcade, the oldest enclosed shopping mall in the country, built in 1828.[29]

Kennedy Plaza is a major business and transportation hub. Surrounding the plaza are Providence City Hall, Burnside Park, the Bank of America Building, One Financial Center, 50 Kennedy Plaza, Bank of America Ice Skating Rink, and the US District Court building. The plaza itself includes the central transfer hub for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), and a police substation.[30][31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 14, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b "Interstate 95". Interstate Guide. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Interstate 195 Rhode Island / Massachusetts". Interstate Guide. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Coren, Samuel (May 2, 2016). "Interface: Providence and the Populist Roots of a Downtown Revival". Journal of Planning History. 16 (1): 4–7. doi:10.1177/1538513216645620. S2CID 219960281. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  6. ^ "Home – – Providence, RI". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  7. ^ Woodward, William McKenzie (2003). PPS/AIAri Guide to Providence Architecture. Providence, RI: Providence Preservation Society. p. 13. ISBN 0-9742847-0-X.
  8. ^ "Union Station". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  9. ^ "WaterFire Providence". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  10. ^ "Providence: Economy". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  11. ^ "Downtown Providence RI Hotels – Hotels in Providence Rhode Island – The Renaissance Providence". Marriott. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  12. ^ "Point225". Providence Innovation and Design District. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  13. ^ "$88 Million Wexford Innovation Center Unveiled in Providence, RI". Shawmut Design and Construction. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  14. ^ "Projects". Providence Innovation & Design District. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 13, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "RiDOE". Archived from the original on November 7, 2015. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  18. ^ "". Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 11, 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Selected works. Providence, Rhode Island, US: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. 2008. ISBN 978-0911517828.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 18, 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 11, 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 11, 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ Providence Performing Arts Center. "Providence Performing Arts Center :: Home". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  25. ^ "Welcome to Trinity Rep – The State Theater of Rhode Island". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  26. ^ "Home – – Providence, RI". Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  27. ^ "Bank of America Building, Providence". Emporis. 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2007.
  28. ^ "One Financial Plaza". Emporis. 2006. Retrieved June 5, 2006.
  29. ^ "Providence Buildings, Real Estate, Architecture, Skyscrapers, and Construction Database". Emporis. 2005. Archived from the original on May 29, 2005. Retrieved November 7, 2005.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 10, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "Police Department – Districts – District 1 – City of Providence". Retrieved October 31, 2015.

External linksEdit