Today, Brown owns over
buildings in Providence. Recent acquisitions have been concentrated
in the Jewelry District, representing a new era of growth for the
University off College Hill and into downtown.
But the campus wasn’t always so expansive.
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How Brown’s campus and property holdings have changed, from 1770 to
Below, The Herald has mapped the University’s property purchases and
some of its sales from its founding in 1764 to its present-day
footprint. Brown first purchased property in 1770.
Information comes from the Brown Real Estate Office archives; the
Brown Office of Facilities Management; the Encyclopedia Brunoniana;
Herald archives; the John Hay Library's special collections; the
Providence Journal archives; the Providence Preservation Society's
Most Endangered Properties lists; the Providence Public Library's
atlas collection; and the Rhode Island State Archives at the office of
the Department of State.
The information below is imperfect, especially predating 2002, which
was the first year Providence began publishing its complete
property tax rolls
online. The maps from 1770 to 2000 include confirmed purchase years of
many specific properties. Other properties that appear on the map do
not match the exact boundaries of land the University purchased, but
we know Brown must have acquired those parcels because University
buildings stand there today.
These maps almost assuredly miss a few buildings and properties
without records in the archives. Still, they show the breadth of the
University’s expansion to new blocks and corners of the city over the
Brown’s original campus spanned two adjacent lots including what is
now the Quiet Green, Main Green and Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle. At
this time, there were no paved roads, so the true boundaries of campus
may have not aligned exactly with its contemporary confines.
Between 1770 and 1900, the outline of Brown beyond its original campus
began to take shape. The University bought the land for its first
building on what is now the Pembroke campus in 1895. In this era, it
also acquired Pembroke Field, land on Thayer Street and land that
would become the Brown Stadium. Between 1770 and 1900, the University
sold some properties that were on its original campus. While they
bought some back, others remain independently owned to this day.
The early 20th century saw campus expansion to make room for the
Women’s College, later
Pembroke College. Sayles Gym — now Smith-Buonanno Hall — and much of
the land that would become Andrews Hall were acquired by the
University in this time frame.
President Henry Wriston, who held his position from 1937 to 1955, made
rapid and extensive campus expansion a key priority for the
University. Brown gradually bought the homes and buildings on the land
of what would soon become Wriston Quadrangle and Keeney Quadrangle.
By 1960, the University’s two largest residential quads — Wriston and
Keeney — were complete.
Farview, Inc., a nonprofit corporation legal entity entirely owned by
the University, was incorporated in 1958. This subsidiary helped
facilitate the purchase of properties that either remained commercial
or taxable or were later demolished for future projects. The
University also acquired much of the land that would eventually become
the Life Sciences Quad and Barus and Holley.
By the mid-1960s, Farview was listed as the owner of 15 to 20
properties in Providence. In the decades prior to 1980, Brown leased
out several properties on John Street. Students were increasingly
opting to live off-campus and spreading into Fox Point, contributing
to rising rents and displacement, The Herald previously
The University took on more non-educational and commercial properties,
looking ahead to bigger plans and future dorms.
“The issue,” President Barnaby Keeney told The Herald during a
about the construction of Barus and Holley, “is essentially whether
Brown goes up in the air, spreads out more or stands still. We are
quite prepared to operate under city policies that will permit us to
go up or spread out. If the pressure on the University is to stand
still, we shall have to resist.”
In the 1980s, the University acquired the final buildings on the block
that would become the Vartan Gregorian Quadrangle, which opened in
In the 1990s, through purchases made by Farview, Brown also acquired
the strip mall on Brook Street, which included Bagel Gourmet, East
Side Mini-Mart and a police station. These structures were
in fall 2021 to make way for the Brook Street Dormitories, indicating
the long-term lens the University has taken with acquiring and
In the 2000s, Brown began a conscious effort to expand off College
Hill. In President Ruth J. Simmons’s
Plan for Academic Enrichment
— among the first public-facing University plans that explicitly
called for expansion beyond College Hill — the University set its
sights upon the Jewelry District, where it has expanded its research
facilities, medical school, office of admission and more.
In 2014, the administration of President Christina Paxson P’19
Building on Distinction
plan, a strategic initiative for campus development and growth in
pursuit of Brown’s academic mission.
In 2019, the University dissolved Farview. Since then, the University
has converted much of its once-commercial property into student
housing — tearing down houses and a strip mall on several distinct
blocks of Brook Street to create Sternlicht Commons and the Brown
University Health & Wellness Center.
Over the decades, the University has also sold many properties. The
information for some sales is readily available, but other records
were less accessible. While some sold properties disappear throughout
these maps, others that appeared consistently disappear in the 2002
map, indicating that they were sold by that point.
Drag the handle below to see Brown's property holdings from 2002 to
Today, acquisitions on College Hill are “less frequent, because
there's less available space,” said Executive Vice President for
Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91. The Jewelry District has seen
more University expansion because of land made available by the 2009
of the I-195 highway.
The Paxson administration has sought to build upon the Simmons
administration’s strategic plan, Carey explained, in an effort “to
fulfill our academic mission and (have) excellent and adequate
facilities in order to do that.”
“Being a residential university and a research-intensive university
comprises a significant need for space,” Carey said.
The University currently holds a mix of institutional and commercial
properties. Its “primary mission is not commercial activity,” Carey
said, adding that there are “a mix of reasons” for the University’s
ownership of commercial entities. “We’re not running large commercial
enterprises or seeking to do so.”
On Thayer Street, the University is the landlord for shops such as
Insomnia Cookies, Berk’s and Warby Parker. According to Carey, Brown
has been “actively involved for decades” with the Thayer Street
District Management Association and has representatives on the board.
Over the last 20 years, the University has sold as much or more
property compared to its acquisitions, Carey said, as part of a
“conscious effort … to identify properties that are not critical to
the (University’s) mission and can be better utilized in other ways.”
That includes the
Brown to Brown
program — which renovates and sells homes to Brown community members —
and the 2019 sale of former University property that is now
Brown’s tax footprint
Institutional properties — including dormitories, academic buildings
and dining halls — are property tax-exempt because of their academic
use. Commercial properties owned by Brown — such as the Brown
Bookstore and Hemenway’s restaurant — are taxed.
Carey explained that while Brown’s institutional tax-exempt status is
crucial to its nonprofit mission, the University is “extraordinarily
aware and sensitive” of the importance of property tax revenue for
Providence. Brown would generate close to $50 million for Providence
if taxed at the commercial rate, according to a January 2022 report
Providence Financial Department.
In fiscal year 2021, Brown paid over $4.3 million in transition and
voluntary payments and $1.9 million in property taxes for commercial
buildings, The Herald
The 2003 agreement, which includes all private nonprofit institutions
in Providence, effectively allows nonprofits to hold taxable
commercial property under their own name and still pay taxes. The
agreement binds the nonprofits to a 15-year phase-out period “when
properties are acquired that were tax-generating … become tax-exempt,”
By introducing this phase-out process, the need for Farview — which
kept properties on the tax roll that were not transferred to the
University and made tax-exempt — became “less and less pressing,”
The 2003 MOU included 20 years of cash payments “directly to the city
from Brown,” Carey explained. The 2012 MOA also required “cash
payments to the city every year.” Renegotiations for the agreements in
January are a “high priority for the institutions and the incoming
mayor,” Carey said.
With these agreements, Farview “had less utility and wasn’t
necessary,” leading to its 2019 dissolution, Carey explained.
Properties previously owned by Farview that the University has not
sold are still owned by the University, and commercial properties
continue to be taxed.
To secure financing to renovate the building that is now the Warren
Alpert Medical School, build a park and create a police substation,
the University established another subsidiary in 2010, Karing, Inc.,
University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.
It was also dissolved in 2019.
When the University acquired River House in 2021, Carey said it
created a specific subsidiary: River House Holdings 1, LLC. Since the
property had a
tax-stabilization agreement which Brown assumed, establishing the
subsidiary made it “very clear that we were going to honor” the TSA,
Apart from River House Holdings 1, LLC, the University does not see
any need for “having a standing separate but wholly owned entity just
for” commercial holdings and expansion, Carey explained. “That’s why
we closed (Farview) down.”
“It appears to us that Brown views the properties it owns as” part of
Brown’s campus, said Brent Runyon, executive director of the
Providence Preservation Society. “I think many people would agree that
one of the most attractive features of Brown is that it is …
integrated into the surrounding neighborhood of College Hill.”
Though the University has previously physically relocated several of
historic buildings, those opportunities have diminished. There just isn't
that much open space,” Runyon said.
“Expansion has been aggressive,” he added.
Runyon said some of Brown’s acquisitions and replacements — like fast
food restaurants and a gas station on Angell Street — were beneficial.
But other efforts, like a
plan to demolish buildings including the Urban Environmental Lab for
the Lindemann Performing Arts Center “really disregard the
neighborhood, and so there is a lot of friction between neighbors,” he
Historic districts and other preservation measures are in place but do
not protect all properties. The
2021 historic district overlay
expansion included three Brown properties, down from the 21 in the
original proposal, The Herald
Runyon, as well as Nick Cicchitelli, president of the Fox Point
Neighborhood Association, emphasized that the University’s shadow
well past its official property holdings, as students and graduate
students proliferate further off College Hill.
“Brown is the largest and wealthiest player around,” Cicchitelli said.
“That affords it the ability to expand in ways that other players
The University “likes to say that they’re very open to community
feedback,” Cicchitelli said. While “they’re open to conversation, … in
terms of external efficacy, it’s lacking.”
“I think there’s a longer strategic vision that they’re keeping
private and they’re only sharing piecemeal bits here and there for the
public,” Cicchitelli said.
“Brown wouldn’t be Brown without Providence,” Cicchitelli added.
“Providence wouldn’t be Providence without Brown.”
The University has “a constant set of relationships and
communications” with neighborhood organizations, government officials
and departments and key stakeholders, such as the PPS and 195 District
Commissions, Carey said. For large-scale projects, with the
integrated life sciences building
“front-and-center right now,” the University is engaging in extensive
Additionally, the University solicits community feedback when it
creates its institutional master plans submitted every five years to
the city, Carey said.
“We’ve seen an unbounded expansion of the University,” Ward 1
Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15 said.
“We all recognize Brown’s symbiotic relationship with the city of
Providence and positive impact,” including job-creation, voluntary
payments and public-private partnerships, Goncalves said.
But he pointed to the problem of the “human displacement of the former
denizens of Fox Point,” where a vibrant
once stood. College students priced out longtime residents as rents
and property values rose. Highway construction and urban renewal also
The University’s property assessments are close to
in total, according to the Finance Department.
Brown, Goncalves said, could do more for Providence. “The thing that a
lot of people would like to see is Brown pitching in more of its fair
share to alleviate some of the burden that property taxpayers or
taxpayers in the city have to shoulder.”
In 2004, the University acquired 70 Ship Street, its first purchase in
the Jewelry District. Since then, Brown has become a major player in
the area, with 17 properties — including a parking garage — west of
the Providence River, according to
current campus maps.
“There was a strategic decision to think of our campus as having two
elements: one based on College Hill and one based in the Jewelry
District,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark said.
The College Hill campus focuses on “undergraduate instruction, faculty
research and student life” while the Jewelry District is in the
process of becoming “a mixed-use environment that focuses on medical
education, scientific research and … administrative space,” Clark
“The Jewelry District itself is very different than most other
neighborhoods,” said Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District
Association. In the early 20th century, the Jewelry District was the
city’s “center of manufacturing” but faced decline when the interstate
was built, Steele said.
opened up many parcels in the neighborhood. Though most developments
have been residential, there is hope for new jobs and business
activity to make the area “very much like the neighborhood that we
used to be,” Steele added.
The University hopes to bring “new life to that neighborhood and
(support) city and state goals,” Clark added. Carey noted that parcels
in the Jewelry District
purchased from Care New England this summer
will support research opportunities. There are “opportunities to do
that in the Jewelry District in a way that is beneficial and is
welcomed by the community.”
The University aims to develop projects that create “both near-term
construction jobs and long-term economic growth and sustainable
activity,” Carey said.
Brown’s role as an anchor tenant in the Rhode Island Department of
Health laboratory building has enabled the developers to build out
space for potential commercial entities, particularly commercial
laboratory space, he explained.
The University has engaged in similar developments at South Street
Landing — a power plant that sat vacant for almost 20 years — and 225
Dyer St., where Brown recently committed to leasing an additional
floor for laboratory space, Carey said.
Over time, Steele believes Brown’s Jewelry District properties will
eventually resemble the campus on College Hill. “What we have is the
most collaborative, communicative relationship that I could ever wish
to have with any major institution in the state,” Steele said, citing
the association’s work with Paxson and her administrative team. Steele
said the University is a “partner,” and “they demonstrate it every
The University informs the JDA of its plans years in advance, Steele
said. “We have a seat at the table.”
“We have the ability now to basically create a brand new neighborhood
out of whole cloth, and that is a rare opportunity,” Steele said. “We
feel that we could not have a better partner than we have in Brown.”
“It is our mutual goal,” Steele said, “to basically make this place
better than the way we have found it.”