From above, the area around the Rhode Island capitol does not appear to lack parking.
In satellite images, parking lots snake around the Statehouse and state administrative buildings to the north. To the south, the Providence Place mall parking garage looms over Hayes Street and Interstate 95. But state leaders argue that the capitol suffers from a persistent parking scarcity and have made several recent investments to remedy it.
On the east side of the Statehouse, two terraced surface parking lots built into the lawn, after parking on the marble plaza in front of the building was banned, are being renovated and expanded.
To the west of the Statehouse on Francis Street, lawmakers approved the $3.1 million purchase this summer of about 1 acre between Rhode Island Credit Union and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium for use, at least in the immediate future, for another surface parking lot.
While turning one vacant lot into parking and expanding an existing lot seems a common practice in Providence, it flies in the face both of city zoning ordinance and the design regulations of the Capital Center Commission, the state-city board created to oversee development in the area around the capitol.
In his economic-development plan released this year, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who has spoken several times about the need to reduce the number of surface lots in the city, listed redeveloping them fourth of his 20 action steps.
Capital Center Commission Chairman Deming Sherman, a partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLC in Providence, say the state overstepped its authority by moving ahead with the lot expansion over the objections of the commission.
He called the parking projects “bad policy” that could threaten a 1982 cooperative agreement with the city, federal government and land owner Capital Properties that helped create the Capital Center after the relocation of a river and railroad corridor. He suggested a parking garage be built on existing surface lots behind the Department of Administration building instead.
Saying the commission (with an annual budget of $17,000 according to the Office of the Secretary of State) cannot afford to sue the state, Sherman appealed for help to Taveras and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, who grew up not far from the capitol.