PROVIDENCE — After years of vacancy, a Florida-based development firm earned final approval from the city on Monday to demolish multiple properties once used for jewelry manufacturing to construct nearly 200 apartments.
The project, a six-story building at 33 Bassett St. in Providence’s historic Jewelry District, will add 191 residential units and one commercial space, according to blueprints submitted to the city’s Downtown Design Review Committee. The project was proposed by real estate and private equity investment firm Pebb Capital, which received concept approval from the I-95 commission in December.
Pebb will have to demolish the existing properties at 33 Bassett St., 41-43 Bassett St., 45 Bassett., and 49-51 Basset St. — some of which are buildings that are part of the Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District.
The property at 41-43 Bassett St., also known as the Roberts Paper Company building, is a single-story building with a garage built in 1948. Founded in the 1920s, the Roberts Paper Company was a supplier of jewelry boxes in a building on Bassett Street that has since been demolished. The company then constructed the existing building, and it was last home to Merchants Overseas, a supplier of crystal and metal jewelry components. The garage was most recently occupied by Domaine Designs, a fashion jewelry manufacturer.
Rhode Island was long considered the costume jewelry capital of the world through the 20th century, and by the 1980s was producing 80 percent of the world’s $1.5 billion costume jewelry industry. Over the years, many companies moved overseas or closed. Providence’s Jewelry District once had the largest concentration of jewelry manufacturing plants in the state. These two buildings, at 41-43 Bassett, were considered the last in the neighborhood to retain any sort of association with costume jewelry manufacturing or sales, according to state preservation records. Stanley Wachtenheim, who owns the two companies with his wife Mindy, said in an email they moved from the property in 2018.
The existing building at 33 Bassett St. is a two-story, flat-roofed brick industrial building first constructed in 1947. The E.A. Adams Company, a jewelry manufacturer, was a major tenant in the building until about 1982, according to state records. The property has “severe structural problems,” according to a May 2023 report by Schlick Engineering, which detailed erosion and how the building’s foundation is settling.
On Monday, Pebb representatives said the proposed plans include amenities such as bike storage, 47 parking spaces, a fitness center, and a dog spa. Outdoor space could include a courtyard for a community garden, public art, and other purposes. This space is “still being fleshed out” by Pebb, according to the company’s attorney, Robert I. Stolzman of Adler Pollock & Sheehan. Initial plans also included a pickleball court, but the idea was “not well received” by neighbors, said Stolzman.
Apartments will include one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, and each will be priced at market rate, which can vary by neighborhood, size, amenities, building condition, and other factors. The average price for a two-bedroom apartment across the city is about $2,100, according to the 2023 Fact Book by HousingWorks RI.
Stolzman told the Globe he could not yet confirm Pebb’s total development costs, and Pebb principal Todd Benson could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.
While neighbors have largely spoken in favor of this project, Pebb had recently been entangled in a contentious debate over another one of its development proposals for new construction in the Jewelry District.
In mid-2022, Pebb announced it would scrap plans to build a 10-story building that would house more than 130 apartments with commercial spaces on the ground floor at 151-155 Chestnut St. These plans were first approved by the Downtown Design Review Committee in December 2019, but construction was delayed by pandemic-related issues. Pebb was granted three six-month extensions as some neighbors opposed the project, and said it would not fit into the neighborhood, which has also been dubbed the city’s “Innovation District.” Through a legal challenge that focused on zoning laws, Pebb was forced to cut down its proposal by two stories before it abandoned those plans.
The Bassett Street land has also been part of other development proposals from Pebb before. In April 2022, Governor Dan McKee’s office announced Pebb’s pitch to house the new state health laboratories on Bassett Street was a “finalist,” but officials decided to work with Ancora L&G. Pebb transformed its plans and reintroduced the latest proposal of mixed-use property with housing in September 2023.
Pebb will not have to appear before the city’s planning board. The firm is expected to file for the demolition and building permits in the coming months.