The Empire Street Complex
In 1992, AS220 embarked on an effort to own our own home in downtown Providence. We acquired a 21,000 square foot, three floor building on Empire Street that was severely blighted and almost totally abandoned. By the following year we achieved code compliance and 100% occupancy, with Groundwerx Dance Company, Perishable Theatre and a number of resident artists helped to fill every room. This was accomplished with a very limited budget of $1.2 million dollars, tremendous community support, highly imaginative fund-raising, and most significantly, tons of sweat equity. What was once an almost lifeless block in downtown Providence is today a thriving mixed-use arts complex and a destination an estimated 50,000 people each year. This project was one of the first significant steps in the creation of the Providence Arts and Entertainment District.
Between 2003 and September of 2006, two million additional dollars were raised for the first phase of The Capital Campaign for AS220, which funding major improvements to the Empire Street complex including: restoration of the facade, expansion of the AS220 performance space and street level gallery, upgrades to the street level HVAC and electrical systems, sound and lighting improvements and the creation of a complimentary venue dedicated to food and beverage, AS220’s bar and restaurant.
Today, Empire Street provides a home to AS220’s Performance Space, 95 Empire, The Bar @ AS220, AS220 Foo(d), AS220 Youth, the Paul Krot B&W Community Darkroom, 3 of our 4 Gallery spaces, and twenty live/work studios for artists. Empire Street is also called home by some tenants and partners: Roberto’s Barber Shop and Muldowney’s Pub. The non-profit College Visions, inhabited Empire Street from its founding until November 2010 when it relocated to the Mercantile. The AS220 Labs called Empire Street home until relocating to an expanded two level space in the Mercantile in December 2010.
The Dreyfus Hotel, located at the corner of Washington and Mathewson streets in downtown Providence, was purchased by AS220 from Johnson & Wales University in April of 2005. Originally built in 1890, it was most recently used as a dormitory from 1975-2000 by JWU. The Dreyfus has a long history as a hotel, lounge, and restaurant that served the bustling downtown theater district and weary travelers searching for lodging from the nearby train station.
AS220’s adaptive re-use of the Dreyfus was undertaken as a historic preservation project that brought new life to the exquisite first floor details and the ornate bar and restaurant; as well as the lower level pub. The magnificent terracotta that adorns the exterior along with the stunning stained glass windows on the first floor were carefully restored. By May 2007, the building was fully restored and fully occupied.
The Dreyfus building currently houses AS220’s Main Office and Development Office, the AS220 Project Space gallery, fourteen affordable live and four work rental studios for low-income artists, as well as a classy restaurateur, commercial tenant, Local 121.
The Mercantile Block
In 2008, AS220 purchased our third downtown building, the Mercantile Block, located on Washington Street and directly abutting the Dreyfus. This four story plus basement building totals 50,000 square feet and presents a tremendous opportunity to provide still more spaces for artists to live, work and create in Providence, reinforcing our reputation as the “Creative Capital”.
In the last decade of the 19th century, city records tell us that the site now occupied by the Mercantile contained a laundry and then a scale repair shop on the Washington Street side. On the Martha Street side was a good sized livery where horses and carriages could be boarded or hired. The Mercantile of today dates back to 1901 and is actually composed of several buildings that were joined over time. In recent years the building was owned by the Cohen family and known as the home of Cogens Printing. Every effort has been made to restore the historic beauty of this mercantile building; throughout the building you will find hardwood floors, exposed architectural detail and exceptionally high tin ceilings that replicate the tin pattern original to the building. The buildings facade was entirely concealed from view has been painstakingly restored to its former grace.
AS220’s adaptive re-use of the historic Mercantile Block provides for a vibrant mix of live and work studios, arts related offices and one-of-a kind, local retail and commercial spaces. Especially noteworthy is the effort to revitalize Martha Street. Original building openings have been uncovered and restored, creating a beautiful and highly functional set of entrances, replete with glass sidelights, transoms and storefronts. Once regarded as a “back alley”, Martha Street was transformed into a vibrant pedestrian way, greatly animating the neighborhood and enhancing safety. The Street was renamed Lucie Way in honor of Lucie Searle, the Historic Preservationist responsible for the re-development of AS220’s three buildings
First Floor & Lower Level
AS220 Program Space & Commercial Tenants
Two long time Mercantile tenants, Clark the Locksmith and The Stable (formerly Wheels Bar), continue their tenancy in the building in new and very improved spaces. Viva Mexico! restaurant also occupies the first floor, as well as the AS220 Industries. The first floor offers a bicycle storage area and mailbox alcove for tenant use.
Non-Profit Offices & Individual Work Studios
Floor 2 contains 11 studios, several of which have been joined to provide larger spaces. The second floor tenant mix includes the AS220 Industries (the Community Printshop, AS220 Media Arts, and AS220 Labs), several non profits such as College Visions and the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities (RICH), some individual work studios and 2 common bathrooms.
Third & Fourth Floors
Floors 3 & 4 contain a total of 22 residential studios ranging in size from 600 to 880 sq ft and the building’s 4th floor residential laundry facilities.
On the basement level of the Mercantile, there are 3 spaces between 250 and 430 sq ft utilized by musically-inclined members of AS220’s staff and the artists in residence at our three buildings.