City Living

How a walkable downtown, luxury amenities, and hip apartments are luring people to live downtown

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Picture your life in the middle of the city. A hip little high rise apartment downtown. Pull back the curtains, and you see the skyline spread out before you. Your breakfast nook overlooks the busy sidewalks below. Pass neighbors in the corridor, then the elevator, then the lobby. Step outside, where the streets thrum with activity. Grab coffee from the corner store; trade pleasantries with the clerk, whom you know by name. Casually stroll to work.

“It’s nice, living in the city,” says Cliff Wood, executive director for the Providence Foundation. “You can walk everywhere. You get to know the owners of the restaurants. A city like Providence – it’s not overwhelming.”

Wood has a special connection to downtown. He used to live in the Westminster Lofts (think: hardwood floors, high ceilings, massive windows, and a rooftop garden) and work for Cornish Associates, the real estate developer that built it and several other impressive habitations in the city. Today, he helps the Foundation champion for “productive downtown development and activation,” carefully cultivating the businesses and nonprofits that make the heart of Providence such a livable ecosystem. 

Activation is the word. Downtown is now a coveted place to live, and new developments are rising every year, attracting a wide range of eager renters: young professionals, students, retirees, and people who just like to live among tall buildings. And there’s nowhere in Rhode Island quite like the Creative Capital. It’s like a tiny slice of Manhattan, but safer, calmer, and way less expensive. Ever wonder what it’s like to live in one of those glittering towers? Here’s a glimpse inside.

 

The Lap of Luxury

You’ve seen The Residences before, whether you knew it or not. The red-and-white tower soars over Providence, an indelible part of our skyline. Completed in 2006, the 32-story structure is one of the tallest buildings in the state – and if you’ve ever gazed out one of its windows, seeing the city stretching out toward the horizon, you actually feel like you’re on top of the world.

The Residences’ slogan says it all: “Welcome to luxury in the heart of Providence.” With their smooth hardwood floors and creamy walls, these apartments look luxurious. The smallest unit boasts a respectable 765 square feet, while the penthouses, with their open-plan kitchens and private patios, cover 1,786 square feet – the same area as a good-sized ranch house.

The Residences is a prime example of luxury living, alongside the contemporary condos in Waterplace Towers, which were built shortly after, and the recently refurbished Avalon at Center Place, which boasts a fitness center, a barbecue, private parking, and a pool. The units are all pet-friendly, and recycling bins are everywhere. But the major appeal to all three of these luxury lodgings? They are located just blocks – or even steps – away from Waterplace Park, Providence Place Mall, and the train station, making it easy to hop a ride to Boston or New York.

However, at the cornerstone of downtown living is its earliest pioneer, Regency Plaza, a three-building complex located just beyond the Providence Public Library. Constructed in the late '60s, Regency Plaza set a high standard for downtown living: 24-hour concierge service, tennis courts, a putting green, onsite spa services, and a heated pool. Such properties like the above offer a bold new lifestyle for low-maintenance, upwardly mobile renters – apartment buildings that resemble resort hotels.

 

Fun & Fashionable

The Arcade is the oldest shopping mall in the country, and the classical structure on Westminster Street remains one of our most revered buildings. Above the row of shops and restaurants, the Arcade also maintains a number of “micro-lofts.” These studios are tiny, some measuring as small as 225 square feet, but their high ceilings, pristine designs, and generous windows make them attractive places to live. For singles and couples with a Marie Kondo streak, the Arcade is a nifty option – and now, some units are purchasable condos. (The vast majority of downtown apartments are rentals as, Cliff Wood notes, banks often hesitate to provide loans for inner-city real estate.) But whether you rent or buy, the Arcade represents another genre of downtown living – the fun and fashionable type.

Another example is 95 Lofts, a handsome brick block that stands in the Jewelry District. The historic building was first constructed in 1904 as a “pin and charm” factory. Today, 95 Lofts provides six stories of lofts overlooking a grid of quiet backstreets. With their exposed brick walls and peppy color scheme, these apartments exude urban style – and who wouldn’t want to live in a SoHo-style loft minus the SoHo price tag?

With so many old buildings to repurpose, Providence is packed with hip habitation, which particularly appeals to young couples, jet-setters, and the newly single. Since many of these buildings are old industrial facilities, the renovation trend thrives on the edges of downtown: The Promenade has two fitness centers, an indoor swimming pool, and a movie theater with stadium seating. Farther down the Woonasquatucket, the US Rubber Lofts boasts gas fireplaces, an indoor basketball court, and rooftop deck, while Rising Sun Mills offers picnic spots on the river, billiards, and event and coworking space. Their proximity to bike trails caters to active lifestyles.

 

Smart Spaces

The River House is one of the newest residences on the block, having opened only last year. In many ways, it feels like an emissary from the future: In the lobby, a high-tech coffee machine that pours chai lattes. There’s a communal workspace with comfy booths and a laser printer, and printouts are free.

The main appeal of River House is its eponymous view of the Providence River. From the rooftop patio, you can sit in a recliner and gaze over the water, India Point Park, and the Point Street Bridge. But River House also seems designed for dynamic, interactive people: On a warm night, you can bring food and drinks onto the patio, cavort with friends, or catch a game on the waterproof TV. A second rooftop patio, which faces west (read: sunsets), has a spotless gas grill, ready for cooking.

For many, urban living means a high-impact, low-maintenance existence. You never need to water a lawn, buy deck furniture, hook up propane tanks, or convert that spare room into a home office – River House provides all that for you. There’s a special storage locker for bicycles, a busy fitness center, and an Amazon Echo in every room, enabling you to change the lighting by voice command.

Find similarly sleek digs at Edge College Hill and the brand-new Station Row development, cater-cornered to Avalon and occupying a former parking lot. On one side, Station Row stands over a canal-like section of the Moshassuck River; on the other, sound-proofed windows overlook the railroad tracks and the Capitol Building. Of the 169 units in Station Row, residents can pick from 80 different floor plans. Off the fitness center, there’s a separate yoga and spin room. In its high-tech mailroom, a laser pinpoints newly delivered packages. If all goes well, the property will soon be LEED certified.

 

As the options grow – this year alone, Westminster Lofts wraps up expansion and Chestnut Commons opens not far from Johnson & Wales – to suit a variety of demographics and lifestyles, apartments have become more affordable. There’s still plenty of luxury out there, but students and families are trickling into the city as well. More residents means more dining, shopping, entertainment, an endless cycle of cross-pollination and innovation. Downcity has long proven itself as an invigorating destination. Now, it’s become a great place to hang your hat