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RI POLITICS

Urban League of RI building will be torn down, turned into community service hub

“This is an investment in Rhode Island’s Black community and the Upper South Providence neighborhood,” Senator Whitehouse said

The Urban League of Rhode Island building in Upper South Providence.Handout

PROVIDENCE — The former site of the Urban League of Rhode Island will be torn down and redeveloped into a hub for community organizations focused on advocacy, recreation, and social services, local and federal officials announced Monday.

“I am excited to announce critical investments to acquire and redevelop this site, and a process to engage the community to reimagine what the future of this site looks like,” Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza said. “We know this site has the potential to once again serve as a community service hub for the community, and I am excited to see how this process takes shape based on feedback from the community in the months and years to come.”

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He said officials have been guided by recommendations from the Providence Municipal Reparations Commission, African American Ambassadors Group, and Black leaders throughout the city. “We know that reclaiming this site has been an important priority for this neighborhood,” he said.

The redevelopment of the Upper South Providence site is being facilitated through the Providence Redevelopment Agency, which will buy the property, demolish the existing building and plan for the reuse of the site in partnership with the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Urban League of RI, and the community.

The first phase of investment is made possible with funding that includes $1.6 million in Providence’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to acquire the property. Another $1 million in federal funding, secured by US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, will pay for pre-development activities including site preparation, assessments, and cleanup.

“This is an investment in Rhode Island’s Black community and the Upper South Providence neighborhood,” Whitehouse said. “I’m hopeful this space will play an important role in furthering the Urban League’s mission in the years to come.”

Built in the 1970s, the 49,000-square-foot building stands on 4.5 acres, and is now “underutilized,” officials said.

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The Providence Preservation Society listed the site on its list of “2022 Most Endangered Properties.”

“Some may wonder why PPS would be interested in a non-distinct, late-20th century commercial building,” the society wrote. “We are experts in historical architecture and would be hard pressed to make a case for this example. But we are also concerned with the cultural and historical value of sites throughout Providence.”

The city will issue a request for proposals for a community engagement process to reimagine future uses of the site. The city expects to submit the request to the Board of Contract & Supply later this week for approval in early January 2023.

“I am hopeful to see the transformation of this blighted building and the enormous piece of land it sits on in South Providence,” Providence City Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris said. “The old Urban League property represents a fresh opportunity to provide critical space to different organizations. However, as community leaders, we must ensure engagement with our neighbors for their valued input.”

The project will be done in partnership with the Urban League of Rhode Island will honor the original work that took place at the site to develop community-service programs and policies that serve Providence’s Black residents, officials said.

Founded in 1910, the National Urban League provides economic empowerment, educational opportunities, and the guarantee of civil rights for underserved communities across the country. The Urban League of Rhode Island bought 246 Prairie Ave. (Rosa Parks Drive) in 1990.

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“We are thrilled to be here today celebrating the next steps in transforming this important landmark in this neighborhood and for our community,” said Beverly Ledbetter, chair of the Urban League of Rhode Island. “For decades, our organization has been in the community working hard to eliminate racial discrimination and elevate the achievement for Black leaders in our state.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.