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Ornate window transom, photo by Pete Rienhard

benefit streetscape 2
Benefit Street (Warren Jagger Photography)

For nearly two years, PPS has been refocused on Benefit Street. From our founding in 1956 into the 1970s, PPS was the chief advocate for the Mile of History, one of the best collections of early architecture in the country. In 1977, we collaborated with the City to upgrade the sidewalks and streetlights. Today, we are entering a new era of advocacy, which continues our focus on the City as a whole but also recognizes that Benefit Street is one of Providence’s treasures, a primary heritage tourism destination.

Read on to learn how PPS is advocating daily for improved infrastructure and enforcement of regulations that help us maintain this jewel.

April, 2016

PPS began to receive complaints about the oversized real estate signs appearing on more than a dozen houses on Benefit Street. We worked with the City to ensure that all signs would be brought into compliance with City regulations. 

From December, 2016 to September, 2017, the future of the Welcome Arnold House, 21 Planet Street, was in doubt. It had been gutted and abandoned. Early on, our Executive Director examined the Minimum Property Maintenance Code and contacted the City about the fact that owners of vacant homes are required to secure ALL doors and windows. In late 2016, the owner was denied an emergency demolition permit. PPS added 21 Planet Street to our 2017 Most Endangered Properties list and continued to apply constant pressure on the City. By March of 2017, all of the windows and doors in the house were fully secured with plywood. In May, though, the owner applied for a regular demolition permit and PPS accelerated our public advocacy as we prepared for the public hearings. The owner had assembled his own experts, so we assembled expert witnesses to testify that the house could and should be saved. We used email and social media to ignite the community to contact City officials and Mayor Elorza to urge them to help save the house. In September, 2017 the owner withdrew the application for demolition.

Also beginning in late 2016, PPS undertook a survey of all residential structures on Benefit Street in order to determine the extent to which they violated the Minimum Property Maintenance Code and the Providence Historic District Guidelines. Using more than 300 photographs, we documented potential violations on nearly 30 homes, most of them multifamily apartment rentals. This information was compiled into a report that also included online reviews of these properties and a letter from one former tenant. The information we collected appears to show negligence on the part of rental property owners in maintenance and management of these properties.

More recently, PPS began working with a group of residents to identify other issues, such as the condition of sidewalks, streetlights and trees. This group is working to form a new organization, the Mile of History Association, which will work with PPS to focus advocacy on Benefit Street issues. We’ve met with Director of Planning and Development Bonnie Nickerson, Deputy Director of Planning and Development, Bob Azar, Director of Department of Public Works Michael Borg and other city officials, to discuss how these issues can be addressed, given the City’s lack of resources.

Because of the preponderance of issues that are rising the fore at the same time, we recently collected letters from eight cultural institutions, ranging in size from the Stephen Hopkins House to Brown University, imploring the City to give attention to these issues and to bring Benefit Street up to the level that befits it as a major heritage tourism destination.

We encourage you to let the City know how important Benefit Street is to the wellbeing of the City. Do you take people there when you have guests in town? Is the Athenaeum a regular stop for you? Do you partake of plays at the Barker Playhouse? There are so many reasons for Providence residents to visit Benefit Street. We deserve a street that lives up to the accolades given it by numerous travel guides.

“Providence’s most fashionable address…an amazing tapestry unfurls down Benefit Street…It’s not just any street, it’s a destination.” – The City Traveler

“There are few places in the country that can match the historical appeal of Benefit Street…which is why it continues to be one of the State’s overall attractions.” – Destination360.com

Note: The work mentioned above is an effort of dedicated volunteers and PPS staff. We are indebted to so many who have reported problems, emailed officials, organized meetings and contributed funds towards these efforts.