Paul Wackrow on South Street Power Station
I need all the help I can get to successfully complete my challenge of exploring 20 endangered properties in 10 weeks; I’m getting down to the wire here! We most recently heard from Erik Gould about the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse, and now I’m turning the blog over to a true expert: PPS Director of Preservation Services, Paul Wackrow. He’s been watching the development of the South Street Power Station project for some time, and was kind enough to share his experience with us. Here you go!
South Street Power Station
by Paul Wackrow
Over the past year, we’ve heard quite a lot about the “South Street Landing” project. It’s been covered extensively in the press, and PPS explored the project at our Providence Symposium last fall. But it wasn’t that long ago that South Street Landing (aka South Street Power Station, Narragansett Electric Lighting Company Power Station, Dynamo House, etc…) was one of the most dire preservation problems in the state.
The station was constructed between 1912 through 1925, and remained in active service until it was decommissioned in the mid-90s. Working in tandem with the nearby Manchester Street Station (which remains open), Narragansett Electric’s operation, along the Providence River, provided power to thousands of Rhode Islanders. After the station closed, the iconic smoke stakes were removed, and the city began to explore creative new uses for the site.
Massive, vacant, waterfront power stations seem to be pretty common in urban areas. London once had two – with the Bankside Power Station now housing the Tate Modern art museum, and the Battersea Power Station slated for a residential conversion after a bid to reuse the building as a soccer stadium failed. Burlington, Vermont, once wanted to make their empty power station into an ice climbing center.
I first became familiar with Providence’s South Street Station in 2006. I was an intern for RINPR covering a press conference announcing the “Dynamo House” project. The centerpiece of the development was the Heritage Harbor Museum, which according to their website, would be, “an intergenerational venue where the State’s residents will share, learn, appreciate, and be inspired by the lives of past and present generations and their impact on the state, the nation, and the world.” The developer on the project was the Baltimore-based Streuver Brothers, Eccles and Rouse, who also developed the ALCO complex in the Valley neighborhood.
When Streuver Bros pulled out of Rhode Island following the economic downturn of 2008, the project slowly unraveled. With no new developments on the horizon, the building was included on our Most Endangered Properties list in 2011 and 2012.
And that’s how things stayed for a while. Every once-in-a-while we would hear rumors, but nothing concrete. In 2012, I remember getting a little too excited when I saw a tweet that Mayor Taveras and Governor Chafee were touring the site (right), but the Mayor’s office quickly let us know that nothing was in the works.
… until 2013. Unbeknownst to the public, Brown, the University of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island College were working on a plan to bring this building back to life. In June of 2013, plans were announced to reuse the power station as a joint-URI/RIC nursing school, along with administration space for Brown. Commonwealth Ventures is the developer on the project, which will also include new graduate student housing on Point Street. This collaborative, outside-the-box solution is a result of the commitment and dedication of all three schools, the City of Providence, and the State of Rhode Island.
In December of 2014, I attended my second press conference celebrating an ambitious adaptive reuse plan. While I don’t see any of these partners packing up and leaving Rhode Island anytime soon, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief when the lights are back on in the power station.
We want to hear from YOU! What do you know about the South Street Power Station, or do you prefer to call it the DYNAMO HOUSE, or something else? Comment and share your thoughts and anything else with us on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.