It was a vital Providence warehouse, then a problematic nightclub. Now a developer has new plans.


April 1, 2024

Article Published

It was a vital Providence warehouse, then a problematic nightclub. Now a developer has new plans.

It was a vital Providence warehouse, then a problematic nightclub. Now a developer has new plans.

A historic warehouse that was once a problematic nightclub behind the Providence Place Mall could get a second life as a boutique hotel or one-bedroom residences.

The three-story brick building at 115 Harris Ave., known historically as the Standard Wholesale Liquors Co. building, was purchased for $450,000 by 115 Harris LLC, a subsidiary of local development and property management firm Strive Realty, during a foreclosure auction in October 2022, according to city real estate records.

The historic property, which the Providence Preservation Society has listed among the city’s most endangered properties, was initially built in the 1920s, and has been largely vacant for nearly seven years since the Van Gough lounge permanently closed in 2017.

Strive’s general counsel, John T. Longo, told the Globe that the company has turned on temporary power in the building and is in the “due diligence” phase of its pre-development plans. If redeveloped into housing, the property could fit 23 units throughout the long, rectangular warehouse, he said.

“We don’t have to decide just yet” between housing and a hotel, said Longo on a call with the Globe Tuesday. “The difference between the two is for a hotel, you have to add some space on the third floor for amenities and on the bottom floor for the lobby. But we’re not leaning toward one or the other right now.”

“We do have some renderings and schematics, but [we do] not intend to share [them] with the public yet,” added Longo.

Longo said Strive has “engaged” an architect, spoken to the Providence Historic District Commission about exterior renovations, and worked with civil and structural engineers for “needed repairs to the masonry.”

Longo said the project, which does not yet have deadlines for development or construction, will likely cost “millions,” but “not tens of millions.” The company’s next step is to file development plans to the city’s planning commission for approval. Longo said permits likely won’t be filed for “many months.”

“We don’t have a final cost for the structural repairs, but we were just told it will cost $100,000 for the front windows to be historically accurate,” said Longo, who detailed a “completely gutted” interior. “The boiler, pipes, and copper wiring had already been taken out of there.”

In 2021, there was a small fire in the empty, graffiti-covered building, leaving some of the beams charred by the front loading dock, but the fire did not cause any structural damages, Longo said.

The historic building has withstood a changing city.

From the 1930s through the late 1950s, the building was used as by wholesale liquor companies, and was an extension of the now-demolished Brownell & Field Company warehouse building. The facade opened to Harris Avenue and allowed for a loading area to accommodate trucks for the wholesale liquor business. It’s one of the final remnants of the Promenade District’s history as a railroad hub, and tracks surround the property, which are still used “every month or so” by the Providence Journal’s printing facility for deliveries of newsprint, Longo said.

Industrial warehouse districts, like Harris Avenue, were vital areas of the city throughout the 1900s, and primarily a place where Providence’s large food storage, processing, and distribution industries were located, according to the Providence Preservation Society. By the 1980s, Providence’s distribution industry was struggling due to market changes, when major grocery chains were cutting out the middle men. By the late 1990s, the Interstate 95 ramp was built for the Providence Place Mall, and several buildings in the area were demolished.

Over the last two decades, the Harris Avenue building was a longtime nightclub that had been the scene of late night dance parties and live music shows — all of which closed following a series of crimes.

In 2003, owner Dimitrios Liakos opened dance club Monet Lounge. In its first two years, the club was caught serving underage minors and failing to properly register its bouncers with the city.

In August 2012, the city revoked Monet’s licenses after a group of its patrons got into a dispute that led to a double shooting in the club’s parking lot in which one person died. Liakos appealed the city’s revocation to the state, which ordered the city to restore his license. The following year, Liakos reopened the club as the Van Gogh lounge.

Similarly to Monet’s troubles, Van Gough also faced the city licensing board in 2015 and 2016 when two separate altercations that began inside the club led to shootings and a stabbing, respectively. In 2016, the licensing board ruled to temporarily revoke Van Gough’s license.

In 2017, the club announced it was closing permanently. The building was purchased for $750,000 in 2018 by Future Farm Technologies Inc., a Canadian company that announced it would lease the property to Herask Associates, LLC to cultivate medical marijuana. It’s unclear if the property was ever actually used.

The Providence Preservation Society listed 115 Harris Ave. on its annual Most Endangered Properties list in 2021 and 2023.

Other proposed developments in the area have struggled to get off the ground — including a proposal for nearly 400 residential units at the site of the former Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse, which is across the street from Strive’s property. The developer, the Carpionato Group, first proposed a larger development with nearly 500 units in 2016. But plans never moved forward.

Earlier this month, bar and live music venue Dusk permanently closed its doors on Harris Avenue after 14 years in business.

“Changes are coming” to Harris Avenue, said Longo. “If it wasn’t for the interest rates being as high as they were, I would have expected a lot of projects — ours, the Carpionatos’ — to have started by now. When they lower, I expect some bigger development to start.”

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