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158 Bowen Street, detail

General Electric Base Plant Demolition Proposal

Current Status:

General Electric Base Plant December 12, 2014: GE has begun demolition on the Base Plant at 586 Atwells Avenue, but were unable to provide a completion date to PPS as of today. Once completed, the site will be environmentally remediated and all buildings will be completely removed. A local nonprofit is working with GE to salvage and repurpose some elements of the building. The remainder of the buildings will be demolished and salvage of materials will be left to the demolition contractor.

Fortunately, GE is carrying through on a plan they announced to PPS and others several months ago, which is to work with a local educational institution on conceptual plans for the site. In March, 2015, a RISD Architecture class led a charrette focusing on future uses for the site. The results of this discussion will be available this spring. 

Update: As of March 2016, the site is an empty lot with no development plans.

Background:

Following the announcement of the demolition proposal in March, PPS testified at a meeting of the Historic District Commission to voice concerns about demolition application, and the lack of any future plan for the site. PPS then called a meeting with representatives from Olneyville Housing Corporation, The Steel Yard, Waterfire, West Broadway Neighborhood Association, and the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, among others. All parties agreed that the demolition application must be tabled to give the community time to discuss options with GE. 

PPS Testimony on GE Base Plant Demolition Application (pdf)

On May 5, 2014, the City of Providence issued a Certificate of Appropriateness allowing the demolition of the General Electric Base Plant complex at 586 Atwells Avenue. Built c. 1916, the GE Base Plant stands as a fine expression of post-World War I industrial architecture, and according to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission the plant was once the largest producer of lamp bases in the world - employing 500 people at the Atwells Avenue site. 

Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission Review of GE Base Plant (pdf)

On the day the demolition was initially approved, the Providence Journal published an op-ed by PPS Executive Director Brent Runyon outlining our concerns. Immediately following the approval, PPS and several other interested parties filed an appeal to the Providence Zoning Board of Review, citing the failure of the applicant to meet the Historic District Commission's criteria for demolition along with procedural errors. The appeal will likely be heard by the Zoning Board in July.  

Attachment to Appeal from Decision of the Historic District Commission (pdf)

On July 21, 2014, the Providence Zoning Board of Review denied an appeal to the City of Providence's decision to allow the Demolition of the General Electric Base Plant Complex on Atwells Avenue. The appeal was filed by the Providence Preservation Society and local stakeholders.

While the demolition of this historic complex is all but certain, General Electric has repeatedly stated their desire to work with the community on the sites future use and design. To facilitate this process, GE plans to work with a local design school on conceptual plans. GE has offered to work with local stakeholders to arrive at a plan that would be beneficial to the community. Were it not for GE’s interest in working with the community, the public would have little input on the future of the site. Unlike with other districts, the Historic District Commission does not consider what replaces historic industrial buildings when reviewing demolition applications.