Track 7: REGENERATION – COMMUNITY, ECONOMICS, and EQUITABLE PLACES / Volet 7: Régénération – Collectivité, économie et lieux équitables

Heritage-Led Development at the Providence Public Library – A Double-Edged Sword

Friday, October 13
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Chapter 1 Heritage-Led Development in downtown Providence

The Providence Public Library (PPL) differs from public libraries in most American cities: it is a privately-governed non-profit, but serves the people in the best “public” sense. Its origins date to 1871 and it still operates in its grand Beaux Arts Central Branch, constructed 1898-1900.

After a significant expansion (1954), core library services vacated the older building, leaving it underutilized. By 2010, the Library was facing declining financial support from the City and was in need of alternate revenue sources. (The final catalyst for intervention was a state-mandated sprinkler system installation.)

Drawing on the success of the Boston Athenaeum and New York Public Library, the Trustees re-imagined empty halls, reading rooms and library stacks as important architectural assets to be restored and shared in new ways with the community. In a venture with a successful catering company, the Library raised revenues to support free public programs through space rentals in the heritage building. The revived building is now available for corporate meetings, exhibitions, weddings, receptions, and other community celebrations, a true amenity in downtown Providence.

The impact of the renovations has been significant. Last year, the Library booked 89 events and these revenues represented roughly 10 percent of the Library’s operating budget (about $400,000).

Chapter 2 Heritage restricts adaptation in downtown Providence

Concurrent with the development of the events venture, under new leadership, the Library also developed a strategic plan. It called for the core library to transform to “reflect not only where libraries are today, but more critically where we want to be over the next decade.” The irony is that where the historic structure (1900) enabled a new kind of economic model for supporting library services, the 1950’s structure is proving a challenge to the kind of adaptation the Library envisions.

Their position is not unique. Many institutions find themselves at the center of a larger debate: what is the appropriate approach for the adaptation or preservation of our more recent past? The reigning test is the “fifty-year rule,” which often seems arbitrary when designating places of “heritage.”

Located in the Downtown Providence Historic District (established 1984), the Library falls under the purview of the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission. The balance of the talk will focus on a summary of the evaluation criteria (National Park Service’s National Register white paper “Evaluating the Significance of Additions and Accretions”) used to establish the addition as “contributing” within the Historic District. It will also look at other ways conservation theory is being applied, and the resulting impact on the Library’s goals for the future. (By the time of the conference the approvals process will have concluded and outcomes will be shared.)

Learning Objectives:

Mary Ann Upton, AIA

designLAB architects

Mary Ann Upton, AIA, recently completed renovations to Wellesley College’s Schneider Center (1904) , historical restoration of the Providence Public Library (1900), and transformation of the Paul Rudolph designed Carney Library (1972). She most admires architecture that leverages context. She believes it is not possible to separate preservation and innovation.
Mary Ann earned her Bachelor of Architecture degree from Rice University. Most recently, she led a graduate-level studio at Roger Williams School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation with the Community Partnership Center and presented recent work at the 2015 APTI national conference in Kansas City.


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Hanna Bell

Hannah holds an MBA in Innovative Management from UPEI, and has 30 years of varied experience in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the UK, Brussels, and Canada. She is currently the Executive Director of the PEI Business Women's Association, owner of consultancy firm ‘The Solution Agency’; a partner in training firm ‘Business Learning Solutions’, and co-owner of ‘The SPOT Charlottetown’, a creative co-workspace and business incubator. Her work focuses on building capacity and influencing change through the power of story telling, practical training and skills development, strategic planning and partnerships, and sustainable project design.

Hannah is a community leader locally and nationally, including representing the province as governor with The National Trust for Canada and as champion for Startup Charlottetown, part of the Startup Canada entrepreneurs network.

Publications include:
“Development and Implementation of a Municipal Strategic Performance Management Framework Utilizing the Balanced Scorecard Methodology” October 2011, UPEI Scholar Press
“Validated entrepreneurial self-assessment instrument: A tool for self-evaluation of business-related knowledge, skills, and personal attributes" The Solution Agency, Charlottetown, PE, 2015
"Helping Women Get on TRACK:Building Resiliency Through a Business Mentoring Program for Women Entrepreneurs in Prince Edward Island", Chapter in "From Black Horses to White Steeds: Building Community Resilience" September 2017, Island Studies Press


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Heritage-Led Development at the Providence Public Library – A Double-Edged Sword

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