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In Providence, a castle with an uncertain future

Real Estate Dept.
By REZA CLIFTON  |  June 25, 2014

 0627_TJI_Armory_top.jpg
HAPPILY EVER AFTER? The Armory.

Conversations about the Cranston Street Armory often come with a little whimsy and fantasy. Take a recent chat with Mike Ritz, a homeowner who lives in the historic building’s neighborhood on Providence’s West End.

“I bought this house, in part, to be near a castle,” says Ritz, who lives two blocks from the Armory. Ritz is the executive director of Leadership RI, an organization with an office four blocks from where he lives. “No matter what goes in there, it will make news,” says Ritz of the Armory, currently used by the state Fire Marshall’s Office, which has expressed plans to leave.

What comes out of the building is also significant, as was shown when news broke in late May that money earmarked for repairs had been removed from the state’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget. Originally, there were $3 million in the budget directed toward repairing the exterior of the Armory, says Senator Paul Jabour (D-District 5, Providence), who represents the neighborhood. He calls this “asset protection” for a building recognized as a historic site by the Library of Congress, the State of Rhode Island, and the Providence Preservation Society, that has suffered wear and tear as tenants left, especially the National Guard in 1997. As soon as the change to the budget went public, he began hearing from people insisting, “‘We can’t let the building remain in the current condition,’” he says.

“As their senator, I was unhappy about it too,” adds Jabour, who held a press conference on May 29 to call for the return of the funds to the proposed budget. Though a few state agencies and departments currently use the space for storage, the departure by the Fire Marshall will mean the building will be vacant and in need of internal and external repairs. He says there’s no firm date for the Fire Marshall’s move.

Jabour credits representatives John Lombardi (D-District 8, Providence) and Anastasia Williams (D-District 9), and Providence City Councilman Bryan Principe (D-Ward 13) for working with him to get two million back in the budget, which was finalized last week and signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee on June 19. He also recognizes the role of residents and homeowners, especially those working with the West Broadway Neighborhood Association.

But things aren’t “happily ever after” just because the castle got its funding back. “It’s a start but not enough,” says Christine West, an architect with the firm KITE Architects who is interested in historical properties. West has also lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, and she regularly runs around the park that surrounds the Armory. She is glad to hear that in addition to the return of the funds, the state has issued a request for proposals in the hopes of hiring a firm to conduct a feasibility study to help determine the best kinds of future uses for the Armory.

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