Thurlow Small was contracted by the Pawtucket Foundation with support from the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission to explore potential changes to the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center and the surrounding site at Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street in Pawtucket RI.
The Blackstone Valley Visitor Center site sits in support of the historic site of Slater Mill and in proximity to 1930s era City Hall, the coming Blackstone Valley Bikeway, the coming RIPTA Rapid Bus line, and revitalizing commercial Main Street. This location is one of the most important sites in the downtown area and the building itself is well positioned to support both economic and cultural development that can improve the quality of life for those who live, work, and visit downtown Pawtucket.
Commercial & Cultural Vitality
This street and site already convey the ambitions of democratic public space that promote vitality, entrepreneurialism, social engagement, environmental responsibility, and civic space. This plan hopes to enhance those ambitions by allowing each mode of transportation– people, bikes, buses, and cars– a respectful clear and safe place along Roosevelt Avenue as well as direct visual and accessible connection to interior retail or office spaces to encourage economic development in the downtown area. The hope for adjacent future development is that it respects the historic massing scale, urban condition, and complete street ambitions of the existing properties while also projecting the expression of architecture and urbanism of the current day.
The site and street improvement proposal includes:
- Moving the existing RIPTA bus stop north towards City Hall
- Adding on street parking and street trees in front of the Visitor Center and across Roosevelt Avenue
- Adding a new raised crosswalk (2-3”) directly between the Visitor Center entrance and the Slater Mill site
- Redesigning the public plaza at the corner to encourage foot traffic, seating, and landscape features
- Incorporate the future bikeway into the sidewalk system
- Developing the northwest corner at Main and Roosevelt into a design that matches the northeast corner to form a Slater Mill District “gateway.”
The Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, on the most important corner in downtown Pawtucket with access to many forms of transportation, has the opportunity to support Slater Mill, be commercially successful, and offer a premier cultural destination.
The existing Blackstone Valley Visitor Center building, developed in the mid 1990s from the previous Peerless Department store structural frame, is in very good condition and has the potential with a few modifications to offer high quality market-rate retail and office space.
The recommendations for building improvements include:
- Connecting the inside and outside space as directly as possible through making transparent window areas and accessible doorways.
- Improving signage at both major building entrances and retail spaces.
- Reorienting spaces on the Main Street side towards the public space by adding new on street entrances.
- Adding skylights through the building so that the main visitor center public space is filled with welcoming daylight that can also reduce energy loads for lighting.
- Adding architectural and building scaled canopies at the two major entrances to encourage pedestrian traffic.
- Adding awning with signage at the retail entrances to express the stores or restaurants within.
- Adding glazed boxes on the second floor that push out from the interior with views towards Slater Mill and the river to improve connectivity to the historic site.
- Add a staircase from the Main Street entry to the second floor to allow access to second floor offices from a major public way.
- Adding a roof garden to the second floor roof to allow for river views, new public space, and to reduce heating and cooling loads in the building.
- Adding solar panels to the roof to make the project more sustainable and reduce the buildings carbon footprint.
- Connecting to all of the site improvements described on the site plan.
- Adding banner signage on building piers to indicate its participation in the downtown district.
- Adding externally lit changeable signage at the north corner of the Roosevelt facade to announce Visitor Center exhibits or events.
- Adding an entrance to the third floor directly from High Street.
- Adding a stair in the north side of the building so that the second floor entrance is accessible from Roosevelt Avenue.