FEATURE

Building Thayer's Future

An inside look at the planned development of College Hill's happening street

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For most of the year it’s hard to think of Thayer Street as anything other than an extension of Brown University, but when the students leave and the dust settles, Thayer remains. While the bond between Thayer and Brown is undeniable, that image is only a part of Thayer’s identity.

“It’s a juggling act,” says Donna Personeus, executive director of the Thayer Street District Management Authority (TSDMA). “Some of the pulse is because of the Brown students [and] the energy they bring. But there are families that live a block off of Thayer Street and we want to engage with them.”

What Donna brings to the table is over two decades of experience with marketing and communications, but most importantly, an appreciation and understanding of what Thayer Street is all about. Born and raised in Barrington, Donna made her way back to the Ocean State after studying advertising and fine arts at Syracuse University and spending several years in marketing in Manhattan. For 14 years she owned and operated red door productions, an award-winning video production firm in Warwick, as well as worked as a director of marketing, advertising and communications for many local businesses. In addition she serves as the marketing committee chair for Art Night in Bristol and Warren, a position that bridges her love of the arts with her marketing expertise.

Since joining the TSDMA in January, Donna has been working tirelessly with members of the Thayer Street community to revamp the district’s image. That outreach is key. What she wants is for this new Thayer Street to be a reflection of its citizens and the only way to make that happen is with their input. Along with Kartabar manager Susan Mardo, she has revived the long-dormant Thayer Street’s Merchant’s Association. She attends the College Hill board meetings, which keeps her fingers firmly on the pulse of the attitudes and opinions of the district. She’s even reached out directly to the community for help in redesigning the TSDMA’s logo, receiving so many submissions that she had to extend the original deadline.

“It’s reaching out to this wonderful, eclectic community and saying ‘be a part of it.’ Be a part of the image that’s going to be here for the next who knows how long,” Donna says. “We want your voice.”

In addition to working as a unifying force within the Thayer Street community, the TSDMA also plays many key roles in the execution of the Thayer Street Planning Study, a comprehensive document that outlines a multi-year strategy of logistical and aesthetic changes required to broaden Thayer Street’s appeal. When Brown President Christina Paxson said in May that Thayer needs “a facelift,” this was what she was talking about. Congested pedestrian ways and a less than welcoming environment for cyclists are among the issues being addressed, as are a lack of green spaces along the street.

One of the first of those new green spaces will be a parklet located in front of the Brown Bookstore. Expected to be installed after Thayer’s scheduled repaving this summer, the parklet will turn one-and-a-half parking spaces into a micro-park, complete with trees and seating to accommodate visitors, which will be in place all year outside of the winter months. Down the road, visitors can expect to see several alleys and even the RIPTA terminal at Fones Alley converted into pedestrian friendly green areas, as well as curb extending “bump outs” at strategic locations, all intending to alleviate Thayer’s notoriously crowded sidewalks.

There are some serious wheels in motion, all of them turning to improve Thayer’s aesthetic while maintaining its trademark eccentricity. This momentum has also spurred a movement to bring regularly scheduled community events back to the neighborhood.

“It’s been a number of years since they’ve had activities and events on Thayer,” Donna points out. “But the focus has changed. The focus is ‘Let’s get excited. Let’s make things happen here.’ Let’s make it a true destination, not just a destination for Brown students.”

The first of what she’s hoping will be many events will be the Thayer Street Fall Festival in September. Organized in conjunction with Festival Fete, the festival will celebrate the changes happening on Thayer Street, but more importantly the people working to realize them.

“Its a diverse group of people that came together,” she says. “Instead of operating in little pods we are working in partnership, which I think is fantastic.”

If the TSDMA is the face of Thayer Street, then Donna, with her years of experience in advertising and social media, is its collective voice, and that voice is calling for a revitalized balance between the Thayer Street as an extension of Brown and the Thayer Street as a part of Providence. As she talks about the Planning Study, Fall Festival and all of the community members actively involved in Thayer’s future, there’s an excited spark in her eyes. For her, and for many in the Thayer community, the potential for something great to be born out of all of these changes is within reach.

“It makes me excited to get up everyday and to work as hard as I can to make this place vibrant, and exciting, and fun,” she says. “I’m pretty much in love with Thayer Street.”