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Brown purchases downtown landmark
The university plans to gradually take over the majority of space at the Old Stone Square building on South Main Street, which houses Hemenway's restaurant.
In keeping with plans to expand Brown University beyond its perch on College Hill, the college announced yesterday it had purchased an 11-story office building at 121 South Main St., known as the Old Stone Square building, for $31.5 million. Hemenway's seafood restaurant is located on the first floor.
“A large block of class-A office space so close to Brown's College Hill campus was a rare opportunity that will expand the university's options for growth over time,” said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to President Ruth Simmons.
Brown officials said they had no plans to close Hemenway's, nor to evict the building's other tenants. "Brown will honor existing leases and will pay full property taxes on the facility for the foreseeable future," Spies said. In addition, maintaining a mix of university and commercial use appeals to Brown, Spies said. The property also has 160-space parking garage.
Last year, Old Stone Bank LCC paid $740,000 in property taxes on the building, according to the city assessor's office.
Some academic and administrative operations can establish offices in the 160,000-square-foot building almost immediately, because about 10 percent of the building is vacant, Spies said, but the university has not yet decided what functions will move.
“The building gives us the flexibility to move some things off the main campus that can thrive off the main campus, but provide space for things that need to be on the main campus,” Spies said.
After Brown occupies the majority of the building – a process that Spies said will take several years – the university will continue to pay property taxes for 15 years through a program negotiated in 2003 between the city's private colleges and Mayor David N. Cicilline.
For the first five years of the agreement, Brown pays the full property tax, according to Alex Prignano, Providence's finance director. In years 6 through 10, the university pays 66.7 percent of the property tax, and for the final 5 years, it pays 33.3 percent.
“This agreement puts the city in a much better position,” said Karen Southern, the mayor's press secretary.
This year, Brown will pay the city $1.4 million through the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program.
Brown officials announced earlier this year that the university would continue to spread into other parts of the city to expand key areas, such as life sciences, biomedical laboratories and research.
There simply isn't enough room on Brown's main campus to accommodate future growth, officials say, and several expansion projects in recent years, such as the $95-million life sciences building, have met fierce resistance from East Side neighborhood organizations intent on preserving the area's historic character.
In 2003, Brown purchased the former Speidel building, formerly the home of the watchband manufacturer, in the city's Jewelry District. Brown converted it into laboratory and research space for sciences such as cell biology, biochemistry, molecular microbiology and pathology. The university already owns or leases sites throughout the city, including at India Point and elsewhere along historic South Main Street, such as the 19th-century Gold Dome building, the original Old Stone Bank.
The university will continue to explore other sites for future expansion.
“We are moving off College Hill in a strategic way, rather than have all our expansion happen on College Hill,” Spies said.
Even before the Old Stone Square building opened, in 1984, it sparked controversy. Members of the Providence Preservation Society said the gray, granite structure would overwhelm the historic street, and fought the plan.
Renowned architect Edward Larabee Barnes was forced to modify his plans more than once before they were finally approved.
Barnes defended his design, calling the building materials and the design for the adjacent park "first class." By the time the building opened, some people agreed with him, saying the structure had begun to grow on them.
In 1992, following the state's banking crisis, the Providence Washington
Insurance Co. bought the building; in 2001 it was sold to Quincy Mutual
Fire Insurance Co.
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