good things happening in Pawtucket
When I met Mr Weiss, my first feeling was one of exuberance. Herb is
a powerful personality whose excitement is infectious... you just can't
help but be excited about the projects he is working on. Herb is officially
the Economic and Cultural Affairs officer for the City of Pawtucket,
but those who know him realize he is much more than that title may suggest.
Herb is the type of guy you want to have on your side in government.
The arts community is lucky to have him. He takes what the mayor says
and really acts on it, showing potential businesses around himself on
a moment’s notice, giving them the low down on the area and the
building they might be looking for. From the moment someone expresses
interest in moving their studio or business to Pawtucket, he gives out
all the info they need and then some, on buildings to rent in or buildings
available for purchase, as well as what tax incentives, city grants, or
state preservation grants might be available to them.
He and the City know what kind of interest the arts can bring, but they
are careful to distance themselves from the age-old cycle of artists-move-in,
businesses-follow, artists-get-priced-out. “We
don’t want another Soho,” Herb says. “We
want a place where people can come to, make their living, and stay for
a long time. We know we need to approach this in a sustainable way, or
in twenty years, we’ll be trying to tackle the same problems all
And people are starting to take notice. One editorial opinion in the
Providence Journal (Monday, February 16, 2004) said of the City and Herb
“…Few would have considered Pawtucket
a likely candidate for revitalization, let alone arts meccahood. But
the city now has a robust arts-and-entertainment district and an annual
film festival. It played host to last year’s Convergence sculpture
festival. The new Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theater has relocated from Providence.
A growing number of mills have been rehabbed with lofts affordable to
artists, including some who have also relocated from the state capital
– whose own arts bureaucracy is being revamped.
“The most important decision made for artists
by Mayor Doyle, we would guess, has been to hire Herbert Weiss to coordinate
the city’s arts programs. Mr. Weiss has been a dynamo at creating
and carrying out Mr. Doyle’s arts policy. He operates at a high
level, thinking up new and better ways to make Pawtucket attractive
to artists and art patrons; but he also operates at ground level, taking
visiting artists around and trying to persuade them to move to Pawtucket…
Both [the mayor and Mr Weiss] have worked wonders for Pawtucket’s
artists and art patrons...”
We are very excited by some of the developments in Pawtucket, and are
hopeful that they will continue their plan to attract affordable and mixed-rate
developments instead of only looking for high-end rents to revitalize
More than 70 mill properties and complexes, housing manufacturing firms,
offices, life/work lofts and artist studios are located with the City.
Pawtucket’s growing artist community was accelerated in 1999 when
the City’s Arts & Entertainment District came into being, encompassing
60 streets and 23 mill sites. While the City’s arts policy initiative
was economically driven, it had a preservation goal of saving used and
underutilized historic buildings throughout the City’s struggling
downtown. Many of these properties were once vacant, but now are being
renovated by artists and creative sector companies. Here are some of them:
- The Nathansons, Morris and Phyllis, first brought new life to the
former Rhode Island Cardboard Company in 1986 by transforming the 25,000
sf of space into 13 live/work spaces and studios. Blackstone Studios,
at 163 Exchange Street, was the first legal live/work loft sites in
- Just behind Blackstone Studios, Ranne Warner, a Boston developer,
is renovating the former Lebanon
Mills site into live/work spaces, called Riverfront
Lofts. The $15 million 110,000 sf mill rehabilitation project will
create 60 live/work style condos.
- Across the street, The Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre has moved into
the vacant annex of the Pawtucket
Armory. The Pawtucket Armory Association, overseeing the rehabilitation
of the historic Gothic armory will ultimately turn the site into a 40,000
sf regional performing arts center.
- Next to the Pawtucket Armory, the John W. Little Company became the
home of Mirror Image,
a textile printing company. Owner Rick Roth brought 25 jobs to this
26,000 sf unused mill. Mr. Roth’s company silkscreen prints more
than one million t-shirts annually, including the recent official National
Football League’s Patriot Super Bowl shirts in stores everywhere.
- Not far away, Michael Cronin of Classic Display, purchased the R.B.
Gage Company mill at 80 Fountain Street to operate his sign fabrication
company. Twelve artists are operating studios in 22,000 sf out of the
100,000 sf mill that originally was used to manufacture cotton yarn.
- The Seven Stone Building Group has purchased the former Parkin
Yarn mill and they plan to create 25 live/work condos in the 39,000
sf, five-story, flat roofed mill brick building at 32 Commerce Street.
The historic mill property has been vacant for over 10 years after being
the home of a host of manufacturers. As part of the Parkin Yarn project,
the City is providing $300,000 in federal HOME funds to create six affordable
units and undertaking parking and roadway improvements for this section
- Along with this revitalization effort, the Pawtucket Redevelopment
Agency (PRA) will soon purchase the former Old Colony Bank Building.
PRA will then offer the property for purchase and rehabilitation. This
16,152 sf property has also been vacant for ten years.
- Richard Kazarian, an antique dealer and designer, purchased the underutilized
Elks Club on 27 Exchange Street. This 20,000 sf landmark property was
specifically designed to be an Elks Club, built in a Mediterranean style.
Located in the City’s Time Square, it will be turned into artist
studios, restaurants, and offer artistic venues. Mr. Kazarian also purchased
the 6,500 Gorman Furniture Company building at 400 Main Street. The
oldest part of this structure, dating back to the 1830s, sits next to
one of the oldest City fire stations.
- Architect Joe Haskett and Kirsten Murphy, a graphic artist, recently
brought new life to the 3,537 former Schaffer’s Furniture Company
building at 163 Broad Street. Built in 1926, the couple purchased the
property and created a live/work loft and studios.
- Artist Scott Roop has also purchased the long-vacant former Hospital
Trust Building at 216 Main Street, turning over 8,000 sf commercial
bank building into artist studios.
- Two Ton, Inc., an architectural firm formerly based in San Francisco,
CA, also came to Pawtucket because of the City’s arts initiatives.
The company recently purchased the 3,500 sf former motorcycle repair
shop at 49/51 Montgomery Street, across the Pawtucket Post Office.
- Central Industry Properties, LLC, a Warren-based developer, has recently
purchased the 300.000 sf former American Insulated Wire complex, at
36 Freeman Street. The developers will create mixed uses for this mill.
Targeting Pawtucket’s growing arts community, the first phase
of this project, now called the Phillips Wire Company Lofts, will develop
28 live/work lofts and 48 studios, totaling 200,000 sf.
- Rag and Bone Bindery
creates handcrafted books at 1088 Main Street, in a 7,600 sf mill built
in 1920. In addition to purchasing and rehabilitating this property,
the former Providence-based company came to Pawtucket with 15 jobs.
- 560 Mineral Spring Avenue, LLC, converted some of its 300,000 sf textile
mill in the Lorraine Mills Complex at 560 Mineral Spring Avenue into
space for artists. Currently 50 artists operate studios in the mill
with an additional 40 studios planned for development in the next 24
months. These studios will take up approximately 100,000 sf of space
in this mill.
- The former Lorraine Mills Complex and Providence Metallizing Company
at 51Fairlawn Avenue is converting some of its mill property into space
Arts, an acclaimed Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) program,
and artist studios. This month, All Children's Theatre moves their headquarters
and custumes and props into this mill complex. The City of Pawtucket
is in the process of trying to locate space in Pawtucket for their theatre
Pawtucket’s Arts & Entertainment policy has brought new life
to the Pawtucket’s historic downtown core and throughout the 8.9
square mile radius of the City. Over 850,000 sf of space in historic mills
and commercial properties have been saved, restored and are seeing new
uses as artist live/work, studios, or housing artistic venues. While many
urban industrial cities are losing young adults because of reduced employment
opportunities, Pawtucket’s arts development policies are bringing
the creative artists and entrepreneurs back into its old mills to live
or operate a business or studio.
For more information, call Herb Weiss at 401-724-5200; or e-mail to: email@example.com.