Coming up: More on the Arcade and the facade1:13 PM Wed, Sep 22, 2010 | Permalink
Email this author | Email this entry
Illustration: View of the rear of the Providence National Bank facade on Weybosset Street
* * *
Nancy Austin's fine exhibit at the Providence Athenaeum, which was the subject of last week's column, sparked in me the desire to kick, one more time, the paltroons who own the Arcade and the land on which sit the remains of the Providence National Bank. Tomorrow's column will run coincident with the last day of Austin's exhibit. On Thursday at noon she will offer a final lecture on her subject, the last of four (if you include the preferatory remarks before last Thursday evening's tour, which took us downtown to see Thomas Tefft's Merchants Exchange - or rather the sad site it was proposed to fill in 1856. We looked at the sad remains of the Providence National Bank on that site - a single forlorn facade - and those of the Arcade next door.
The more you look at it, the more difficult it becomes to defend the behavior of the Granoff brothers (owners of the Arcade) and of O'Connor Capital Partners, the New York company that bought the Providence National Bank from the Granoffs and then demolished it before locking in the financing for One Ten Westminster, a 40-story condo tower project that never got going. O'Connor also owns the Industrial Trust Building (Bank of America) nearby.
It is hard to resist the temptation to view the behavior of these two firms (Granoff was originally involved in the One Ten project) as not quite on the up and up. Granoff's management of the Arcade seems to have been intended to run it into the ground, to drive out the old tenants in anticipation of a shiny new batch of tenants (or just one) that would naturally follow the construction of One Ten, whose lobby was to lead into the Arcade. When that fell through, the Granoffs hastily put out a cock and bull story about spending $8 million to upgrade the Arcade, then kicked out its tenants and shut it down for good. The Arcade's existence is not at risk (I hope!) but its rep - it's historical significance as the nation's oldest indoor mall - has been kicked to the curb. The more you look at it, the more it seems like a case of "not quite demolition by neglect."
At any rate, that's the theory I fear I am increasingly tending to believe. The Granoffs say that a lack of parking and the general decline of downtown were responsible for the fate of the Arcade. Partly that is correct, of course, but an interesting argument can be had over how much. When I moved to Providence in 1984, the Arcade was thriving, to judge by its being full of patrons during the lunch hour and open into the evening for the comedy club Periwinkles (if I recall). There was a full-service restaurant, Scotland Yard, on the third floor, and I think it was also open at night, though most of the shops closed after work hours. It was a hopping place until well into the period when it was owned by Johnson & Wales University, which sold it to the Granoffs in 2005.
If anyone has any more thoughts on this, let me know. Meanwhile, tomorrow's column will try to get the next mayor to hold the Granoff and O'Connor feet to the fire, with part of a solution suggested by a former mayor of Providence. Guess who! Surely not ... !?