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Providence Flea wants to buy the land where its market operates, competing with 3 other proposals

The Flea has been leasing the green space on South Water Street where the market is held on Sundays, but the land was always slated to be developed

The Providence Flea is proposing to buy the land where the market is held and build a pavilion. The Flea is competing with 3 proposals for mixed-use buildings.Providence Flea/Kite Architects

PROVIDENCE — A sliver of riverfront property downtown once used as a helipad and eyed for a boutique hotel could soon become home to condos, restaurants, and office space.

Or, it could become the permanent home of the Providence Flea, the popular outdoor artisan market located there in the summer and early fall.

Four different proposals for the narrow parcel on South Water Street will be heard by the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission on Nov. 15, including one from the flea market that would allow it to operate there year-round instead of moving elsewhere during colder weather.

The .28 acre strip of land known as parcel 1A was once part of Interstate 195 has been considered for several projects over the years, all of which have fallen through. Because of the location of the parcel, it requires a special waiver from the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council.


After the commission asked for new proposals to develop the land, the flea market put in a bid to build an “open air pavilion with a solar array on the roof and a radiant heat slab,” which would allow the creative marketplace to operate outside for more of the year. The project would be called the Providence Open Marketplace, or “the POM.”

“After watching unsuccessful bids over the years which could have displaced us, not knowing if we would be able to continue year after year, this go ‘round we have decided to put in our own proposal,” the Flea’s owner Maria Tocco posted on the market’s Facebook page. The post said the organization would “invite other uses for the space such as night markets, film nights, sunset concert series, the beloved oyster festival and others.”

A rendering of the Providence Flea proposal for parcel 1A of the former 195 land.195 Commission

Tocco said after operating the artisan market on the parcel for a decade, she decided she would throw her hat in the ring to buy the land.


“There are no buildings on the riverfront on this side of the river,” Tocco told the Globe. “To put a building smack in the middle of it just feels like it would be misplaced.”

She said the pavilion structure could be rented for private events or used during big outdoor events such as PVDFest and PrideFest when it’s not being used for the flea market.

The other three proposals include a mixture of housing and dining options, and include opportunities for the public to still access the riverfront.

One proposal by the Providence Architecture & Building Company would be a “creative food and beverage concept” topped by the firm’s new offices and condos. The proposal includes a new Dune Brothers restaurant location and an unnamed ice cream shop, according to the firm’s submission to the 195 Commission. The proposal includes public access to the river and mentions live music.

A proposal by the Providence Architecture & Building Company would include a seafood restaurant, the firm's offices and condominiums.195 Commission

Another building proposal, submitted by Riverside Partners, envisions becoming the “urban lung” of Providence, with “multi-level open spaces.” The ground level of the 6-story building would include more than 9,000 square feet of “public space,” 2,400 square feet of retail, and 800 square feet for the CIC Providence. The commercial space would be topped by three-bedroom condos with private outdoor patios.

The proposal says the firm is “committed to honoring the historic and natural elements of Providence while introducing a riverfront destination.”


A proposal by Riverside partners envisions retail space, condos and public space in a 6-story building.195 Commission

The 4th proposal, by Riverwalk JV, is a 3-story building with ground-level restaurant and outdoor space, topped by housing. The project would include Bistro 401, a “contemporary and sophisticated American bistro.” The proposal emphasizes public access to the water and “unobstructed views” because of the lower height.

A proposal by Riverwalk JV would include a ground-level bistro, outdoor space and housing.195 Commission

The bidders’ more detailed proposals have not yet been released, and it’s not yet clear how much each bidder is proposing to pay for the land. But the commission asked for a minimum purchase price of $350,000, as the state attempts to use the proceeds from property sales to pay back bonds for the land.

More details are expected at next week’s meeting, when the developers will present their plans. Public comment will also be accepted.

It’s not yet clear where the flea market would relocate if one of the other proposals is chosen, Tocco said.

The 195 Commission has been developing parcels of vacant land in Fox Point, the Jewelry District and downtown Providence that used to be Interstate 195, before the highway was moved more than a decade ago. The projects built so far have included the Wexford building/Cambridge Innovation Center (where the Globe Rhode Island offices are located), several apartment buildings, a Trader Joe’s and the Aloft Hotel. A new state health lab is under construction.

The Providence Pedestrian Bridge was also built over the river where the highway bridge used to be, connecting the East Side with downtown.

Steph Machado can be reached at Follow her @StephMachado.