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Struever Brothers targets ambitious development in Valley neighborhood

Struever Brothers Eccles & Rouse, the Baltimore-based developer with an increasingly prominent profile in Providence, hopes to build an ambitious mixed-use development on a 16-acre parcel of old industrial properties, including the site of the former US Rubber Company, in the city’s Valley neighborhood.

Thomas E. Deller, director of Providence’s Department of Planning and Development, says Struever Brothers has been in discussion with members of the Licht family, including former lieutenant governor Richard Licht, which has owned the property since 1976, about a mixed-use development that would include housing, jobs, and open space. The 16-acre parcel between Valley Street and Kinsley Avenue encompasses about a dozen old industrial buildings, including two with more than 100,000-square-feet.

Although other sources confirm Struever Brothers’ interest in pursuing the mixed-use plan for the property, part of an emerging development corridor between the Providence Place Mall and Olneyville Square, neither of the principals is yet willing to discuss it.

Although Deller says Struever Brothers and the Lichts have "some sort of agreement," Richard Licht denied this, adding, "There’s nothing to tell, nothing to talk about . . . This is a private business transaction. I don’t talk about it in the newspaper."

Eric Jones, Struever Brothers’ director of marketing, says, "At this point, we don’t have any indication of what we’re going to do, if we’re going to do a project on the Licht properties." Jones says the company is interested in pursuing development in the general area, adding, "We’ve had a number of talks with a number of property owners along the Valley Street corridor."

The unwillingness to discuss the mixed-use vision could reflect a number of factors — including a desire to not tip off tenants facing potential displacement from the cluster of old industrial properties. On the plus side, Struever Brothers, which has a national reputation for the adaptive reuse of old industrial buildings, could be expected not just to try to save the structures, but to bring some fresh vitality to the area, if it goes ahead with the project.

Although Carl W. "Bill" Struever was rebuffed when he floated an alternate vision for Eagle Square to then-mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci in 2001, his company has gained a steady foothold in Rhode Island. Struever Brothers partnered with the Armory Revival Company for the Rising Sun Mills residential-office development in Olneyville, and the Providence Journal recently identified it as the partner for a $50 million condo-commercial development in conjunction with the Heritage Harbor Museum. For its part, the city seems to have gained more appreciation for mill preservation; Deller says the Lichts have been encouraged not to sell their Valley Street properties to another developer who would level them for parking and big-box development.

Activists remain concerned about the prospect of gentrification and displacement. As Laura Mullen, of the Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts’ Sustainable Artist Space Initiative, says, "I hope that any development that occurs would consider the needs of the neighborhood, all of the nonprofit and community organizations working in the neighborhood, and all of the residents and the businesses currently making positive contributions in the neighborhood."

Issue Date: July 15 - 21, 2005
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