Best Practices - Vol. IV

Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr.

Arts and Entertainment District

Providence is home to the largest number of working artists, per capita, in the nation. The arts community, including performance and visual arts, has contributed a great deal to the resurgence of this historic City.

The Arts and Entertainment District was established for two reasons. First, the goal was to keep artists living and working in Providence. Second, the City has an older downtown core area, anchored by some of the finest arts and entertainment venues in the nation, that provided a perfect, ready-made "colony" that could be transformed into working and living space for artists. Officials believed that artists would help revitalize this older core -- and they were right.

Before the project began to bring tangible results, the City already enjoyed the benefits of having the Tony Award-winning Trinity Repertory Company in the district, along with AS220, an artists' complex that provides living and working space for artists. The Providence Performing Arts Center was housed in the most glorious historic theater in the country, and a number of smaller theaters, dance companies and visual and musical artists were there. Officials envisioned attracting more artists downtown, utilizing store fronts in very visual and dramatic ways, and refurbishing historic upper floors for apartments and studio space.

The City approached the Rhode Island General Assembly with landmark legislation to make the project work, and successfully secured -- even in the face of a Governor's veto -- both income tax and sales tax breaks for artists living and working in the A&E District. The Mayor's Office worked with the Providence City Council to go a step further, creating additional tax breaks for District property owners who refurbish their properties for residential use.

Before the tax breaks went into effect in January, the migration of artists began. Most notably, a New York theater company, A to Z Theater, relocated into a newly refurbished building, bringing with it a performance space, apartments, and additional studio and apartment rentals for photographers, recording artists and others who have since moved in.

The City established a commission to place interested artists, identify available qualifying homes and studios in the district, encourage the private sector to invest in the District, and work with property owners to renovate their buildings, as the demand is great.

Says Mayor Cianci: "I believe that the success of the District will complement and enhance the first phase of the $143 million Capital Center Project, completed last summer, that expanded the downtown area by relocating railroad tracks, uncovering our glorious convergence of three rivers, adding the construction of beautiful bridges and river walks along the rivers, and the construction of a phenomenal waterfront, circular park and amphitheater called Waterplace where free public performances are available throughout the year." The Capital Center Project also included the construction of the Rhode Island Convention Center and brand new Westin Hotel within its boundaries.

The Project also attracted mall developers who recently broke ground for the $360 million upscale Providence Place, an urban mall that is expected to be "completely symbiotic" with the City's historic architecture, and expected to attract even more visitors to a City the houses the region's only Nordstrom's and other upscale department stores and shops. As part of the mall project, the City secured an agreement with the developers to place a first-run cinema in the Arts and Entertainment District offering seven screens and signalling the revival of urban movie theaters in the City.

"Providence has been declared a Renaissance City' by USA Today and other publications of national stature for our Arts and Entertainment District," says Mayor Cianci. "The district also won the attention of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 1994 which led to our receipt of the Livable Cities award. It also recently garnered the attention of the Utne Reader which named us one of America's Ten Most Enlightened Cities for our work on behalf of artists. But most importantly, it is encouraging our artists to stay here at home in Providence and helping to revitalize a section of our Downtown that is serving as a model for cities all over the United States."

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (401) 421-7740

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