City Life

Reimagining Dorm Life on Thayer Street

It all started with a haircut. Bob Gilbane, fourth-generation CEO of the Gilbane Development Company, was in the chair at Squires Salon, with salon co-owner David Shwaery manning the scissors. They …

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It all started with a haircut. Bob Gilbane, fourth-generation CEO of the Gilbane Development Company, was in the chair at Squires Salon, with salon co-owner David Shwaery manning the scissors. They started talking, and Gilbane mentioned his regret that there wasn’t a promising parcel of land for sale in the area: he wanted to build a project near Brown, his alma mater. Shwaery unexpectedly offered the Squires property. Gilbane laughed, explaining he would need the whole block. It was then that Shwaery revealed he owned the eight buildings surrounding the salon, too.

They struck a deal, and Gilbane pursued a model that has brought him success near other campuses, from Arizona to Virginia. Getting the necessary approvals for this historic and densely settled patch of Providence, however, was challenging. It meant 18-20 months of permitting before construction could begin, as well as extensive conversations with the Historic Commission, the College Hill Neighborhood Association and the Thayer Street Merchants’ Association along the way.

In June 2015, the first tenants moved into 257 Thayer, securing it as the first purpose-built off-campus student housing in Rhode Island. There is no formal link between the building and any university. The 97 apartments, most of which are 3-bedrooms, come furnished and include full kitchens and laundry units. The common areas offer sleek amenities: a courtyard with fire pits, grill and sound system; fitness center; garage; computers and printers; lounge; and Waffle Wednesdays, among other events. The brand-new building also boasts an LEED Silver certified level of energy efficiency.

When compared to the average off-campus per-room rent of $500-$600, 257 Thayer is banking on the value of convenience. Out of the base monthly rent of $1,090, $740 goes towards the room and $350 covers utilities and amenities. The price has not proved to be a deterrent: occupancy is at 99%.

One resident noted that his favorite thing about 257 Thayer is that it feels like a dorm, but better: he lives near his friends, but has his own room. Another student relaxing in the lobby wasn’t a tenant herself, but said she visited often to enjoy the courtyard, grill and free printing.

Gilbane says the goal of 257 Thayer is to take the hassle out of off-campus housing. In its first quarter, this barely off-campus residence has confirmed a market that’s eager for the perks this building uniquely offers.