by Morton D. Rosenbaum | September 01, 2004

Rhode Island Convention Center

Short on beds: The Rhode
Island Convention Center

Plans to build a state-subsidized headquarters hotel next to the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence were officially abandoned in July, when developers offered alternate plans to address the city’s room shortage. 
    In June, former state representative Vincent J. Mesolella had requested $20 million in federal funds to help finance a $52 million, 250-room  hotel on the site of the vacant John E. Fogarty building, neighboring the center.
    However, support for Mesolella’s plan evaporated when three separate developers expressed interest in building a privately funded 200-room hotel down the street from the center, on the half-acre adjacent to the Westin Providence. Their one stipulation: there be no competition from any state-subsidized property.
    Supporters of the headquarters hotel were skeptical. “There certainly is the thought that these offers were merely attempts to try to hold off the Mesolella hotel,” said a spokesperson for House Speaker William J. Murphy. “We’ll be paying attention to see if any of these plans get off the ground.”
    Jim McCarville, executive director of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority, said he felt “hopeful that the private sector can build the rooms the city needs.” However, he added, “the major problem is not the total number of rooms, it is that you have to go to multiple properties. The ideal would be to expand the Westin to a 600-room hotel, rather than have a stand-alone property built next to it, which is what most of the private developers have been talking about.”
    Yet quantity of accommodations was the issue for Diane Saxe, meeting planner for the Providence-based American Mathematical Society, who discovered she still was short 150 rooms after tapping out area hotels for this year’s 600-attendee MathFest convention at the RICC. “If Providence wants to look beyond New England and go national, they’ll simply need more hotel space,” she said.