Then & Now

Then & Now

From Educational Outpost to Urban Core
JWU Then and Now Gaebe Common 232x162

During the post-WWII years when Johnson & Wales was growing from a business school to a college, downtown Providence was the cosmopolitan hub of culture, art and commerce in Rhode Island. High-end department stores rivaled the Filene’s and Bloomingdale’s of other cities. Prime among them, The Outlet Company occupied an entire city block on Weybosset Street.

Between 1945 and 1985, the city’s population declined by 40 percent. The growth of shopping malls in the 1960s saw an exodus of trade to the suburbs. In 1982, The Outlet closed its doors and in 1986 a suspicious fire gutted the once-grand enterprise. The resulting debris and toxic contaminants were an impediment to reuse and development of the site.

When former JWU President John Yena ’06 Hon. came to the role in 1989, the university was housed in scattered buildings around downtown. His excitement was sparked by a presentation by renowned urban architect, Andrés Duany, to city planners, offering a vision for a downcity rebirth and a broadened sense of community. Yena saw Johnson & Wales at its center.

Changed lives
Working closely with government agencies, JWU funded site cleanup and when complete, purchased the land from the city. Duany’s visionary plans guided the university’s growth downtown.

Today Gaebe Commons and surrounding buildings are part of what Yena calls “a protected little enclave where our students can withdraw and still be part of the urban fabric and the green space of the city.”

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