A farewell message from Brent Runyon

Published in Announcements, People in Preservation.

This is my last message to you, our closest friends and supporters. As I reflect on my nearly ten years at PPS, I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished together. Your engagement has made everything possible. The knowledge of what we are doing to preserve Providence’s historic places, press for quality new buildings, elevate forgotten stories, and celebrate diverse heritage has made every single day worthwhile. It can be hard to remember the details as the years pass, so I took this opportunity to read through our annual reports.

Together, with you and with partner organizations, we accomplished a great deal, including some significant advocacy wins like defeating the Hope Point (“Fane”) Tower, preserving the Beresford-Nicholson House, raising funds to stabilize the tower of the Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House, halting the demolition of five residential buildings at Brown University, establishing a new Power Street-Cooke Street historic district, and keeping the Industrial Trust Building top of mind through ten years (and counting) of vacancy.

Together, we also mourned a few losses, including the Southwest Pavilion at RI Hospital, the Adie House57 Federal Street, and the Ward Baking Company complex. The fact that those buildings were allowed to be demolished bolsters the case for a local preservation organization. What more might have been lost were it not for PPS?

To increase our capacity, we followed our 60th anniversary celebration in 2016 with the launch of a comprehensive campaign that raised over $1.4 million, helping grow the endowment to nearly $2 million and enabling us to hire our first director of education in a dozen years. It also seeded the funds needed to rehabilitate our headquarters, the 1769 Old Brick School House. This month, work is wrapping up on a now fully accessible and code-compliant colonial building. Look for an open house and celebration in the fall.

Programming over the past decade has been particularly strong. In 2018, we launched the Sites and Stories program to engage local artists in highlighting several of our most endangered properties. Among the many excellent art pieces that resulted, the choral haunting at Paragon Mill was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. And during the pandemic, we increased our virtual programming and brought our community together in that dark time.

We have spent hundreds of hours in symposia, spring lectures, and walking, bike, and boat tours exploring the many diverse neighborhoods of our city. Learning about Providence this way made me fall in love with its buildings, neighborhoods, and people. Of course, we also traveled farther afield with the restart of our heritage travel program, traveling to Cuba (twice), Detroit (twice), and New Orleans. And we created an invaluable resource for anyone, anywhere who wants to learn more about Providence architecture: the online Guide to Providence Architecture.

I am most proud of two recent activities. The first is our 2021 strategic plan, which endeavors to position historic preservation and this organization as active participants in finding solutions to the critical issues faced by our city, including housing, jobs and economic security, and racial justice. The second is Building Works, a program that addresses the need for skilled construction workers and the need we all have to maintain our aging buildings.

There is always more to do and I hope I am leaving the organization well-equipped to continue the work. We have a talented staff, a committed board, and a strong balance sheet. With your help, the organization will thrive as it approaches its 70th anniversary (in 2026). Please stay engaged through the transition to new leadership. If you are able, send in your annual contributions soon so that the new executive director can focus on the myriad tasks ahead of them, rather than fundraising.

The question of what’s next for me has been raised a few times. Beginning in July, I will be working part-time for PPS on some discrete projects until the next executive director is hired. I will also be launching Runyon Heritage Associates, a Providence-based nonprofit and historic preservation consultancy, and working as a real estate sales associate. Please visit my website and keep in touch with me at my personal email.

Thank you for a decade of friendship and support. For me and for PPS.


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