‘Little Italy’ image campaign tops makeover plans for Federal Hill

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Federal Hill? What’s that?

Some members of the Federal Hill Commerce Association think tourists who don’t live in Rhode Island might be puzzled at signs pointing to the Hill — and an outsider wouldn’t know it’s the Italian neighborhood. Therefore, at a meeting this week they explored the idea of re-branding it — as a more enticing name people might recognize: Little Italy.

That was one of several topics discussed at an emergency meeting Tuesday, called at the Roma restaurant on Atwells Avenue. Another was recent crime: Hotel Dolce Villa, owned by Association member Gianfranco Marrocco, was held up on Monday.

But just as big a concern was the slowing of business on the Hill — even though elsewhere in Providence is seeing success.

“Downtown, in the heart of the city, is exploding. We’re not,” said Marrocco.

Thus, rebranding. “I know some people in this room want it to stay Federal Hill. Unfortunately, only Rhode Islanders know that the Hill is the Hill,” Marrocco said.

The answer? Highway signs, said Marrocco. He wants to meet with city and state officials to create a new highway signage campaign: on I-95 northbound and southbound, and the 6-10 connector would be signs reading “Next Exit: Little Italy.”

So far, the association has raised $10,000 towards drumming up new business — including the signage plan.

One more point the business owners discussed Tuesday with Rep. John Lombardi — the former Providence city councilman and, for one year, acting mayor — was the parking meters that have mushroomed on city streets since Mayor Jorge Elorza took office. Some streets on the Hill that previously had — effectively — free parking, are now metered.

Lombardi asked if the meters were hurting people’s businesses. “Now the entire state thinks, ‘Oh, if we go to the Hill we have to pay to park.’ Why would they come here?” responded Marrocco.

Grumbling over added parking meters has also come from business owners near Thayer Street on Providence’s East Side and Wickenden Street near the waterfront.

Lombardi also encouraged the association to broaden their base — and expand their purview to more of the area considered Providence’s “West End”: “Let’s start expanding. Let’s expand with Broadway. Broadway is becoming an economic engine! There’s thousands of businesses there!” he said, exaggerating for effect — “We’re not tapping in. I’ve been saying this for twenty-five years.”