Shepard Company Building (Wikipedia)

The Rhode Island Department of Administration (DOA), which in January had announced it was seeking to repurpose the Shepard Building in downtown Providence, a University of Rhode Island campus for some 23 years, is close to publicly asking for proposals for the future use of the building, which not only houses URI, but also the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Laura Hart, chief of public affairs at the DOA, said the department had received two requests for information and now a workgroup, including Commerce RI and Rhode Island Housing, “is determining next steps and a potential Request for Proposals.”

What that means for URI and RIDE, the hundreds of students who attend classes at the Providence campus, and faculty and staff of some 80, is finding a new Providence home. What form that takes for URI remains vague, as the university determines what will stay in Providence and what moves to Kingston.

Some faculty have indicated that their programs are being relocated to Kingston, URI’s main campus.

The official URI line: “Regarding programs and new Providence locations … our work to identify and align appropriate space and programmatic offerings is ongoing,” said Dave Lavallee, URI assistant director, of communications.

“Given the possible sale of the building, the university will vacate the Shepard Building, and is working to identify more appropriate spaces in Providence for operations there,” Lavallee said. “It is important to note that URI will continue to maintain a strong presence in Providence, providing education, research, and service opportunities that serve and benefit Rhode Islanders.”

What is clear is that the DOA wants to turn the 255,000 square foot property, once the proud home to one of Providence’s storied department stores, into a more lucrative product.

When the department announced its plans to repurpose the building, Hart had said the department wanted to “make sure it is used in the best, most efficient way.” The request for information said the state was looking for “conceptual proposals” for residential, retail and industrial use.

Hart had also said that the possible sale of the building was the result of a change of leadership at DOA. That was after James Thorson was named as acting director by Gov. Gina Raimondo, just days before she left office. Today, Gov. Dan McKee announced that Thorsen is leaving, effective April 28, returning to the U.S. Department of Treasury. The governor named Brian Daniels, former director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, as interim director.

According to the Request for Information, the building is worth just $10.2 million according to a May 2022 appraisal. That appraisal also suggested its best use was as apartments.

Some questions remain unanswered:

  • When does the state anticipate finalizing the sale of the property? The Request for Information suggested that URI and RIDE would be asked to vacate the building between 12 and 18 months. Hart said that “no relocation would be made during an academic semester.”
  • How many students attend classes at the Shepard Building? Lavallee: “URI students are not enrolled at a campus specifically, but rather at the University broadly. Some students will take advantage of learning and research opportunities at multiple campuses.”


The Shepard Company Building, at 255 Westminster Street, was built in the 1870s and was home to the Shepard Company from 1903-1974. In March 1923 a fire caused a million dollars in damages. The building was rebuilt, and the company continued to prosper for many years, but fell into bankruptcy in 1973. It was purchased by Eastern Dry Goods Company, but closed a year later and for some time was occupied by a variety of businesses.

The University of Rhode Island moved into the Shepard Building in 1996, following a $34 million renovation project. It was named the College of Continuing Education, renamed four years later as the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education, and now called the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies. Hart said that total operating costs for URI at the Shepard’s building are $2.7 million annually.

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