Cultural hot spot Providence sees hotel boom

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As Providence, R.I., gears up for the start this May of its annual, summer-long WaterFire art installation, officials are touting other developments on the citys burgeoning festivals and accommodations fronts.

WaterFire is a six-month, outdoor arts happening centered on bonfires lit on three downtown rivers every other weekend. Although it has become the citys signature event in the past decade, theres much else ado in Providence, an outsized college town -- home to six institutions of higher learning, including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design -- that sells itself as New Englands cultural hub.

Summer festivals include the Providence Preservation Societys Festival of Historic Houses, June 2 and 3; the FirstWorksKids performance festival for children, June 16 and 17; and Sound Session, a citywide, multicultural music festival, July 17 to 22.

One of the first U.S. cities to elect an openly gay mayor (current Mayor David Cicilline), Providence will host a Gay Pride celebration June 17 and 18, featuring New Englands only nighttime parade.

Other cultural events this summer include dramatic offerings from the Trinity Repertory Co., the Black Repertory Co. and the Dance Theater of Rhode Island as well as exhibitions of note at the RISD Museum of Art and Providence Childrens Museum.

On the third Thursday of each month, 30 galleries citywide keep their doors open late for visitors on Gallery Night; a free shuttle connects participating venues.

Providential packages

Befitting a cultural hot spot that draws more than 1.5 million overnight visitors a year, including ever more international tourists, Providence is souping up its hotel plant with bigger and better inventory.

Work continues on a second tower at the Westin Providence Hotel, adjacent to the Rhode Island Convention Center, adding 200 rooms to the current 374.

Scheduled to open in December is the four-star, 274-room Renaissance Providence Hotel, set in a former Masonic lodge.

Last year, the city gained two boutique properties with the opening of the 61-room, 19-suite Hotel Providence in the downtown arts and entertainment district and the 14-suite Dolce Villa, a hotel with all-white decor in DePasquale Plaza on Federal Hill.

And the former Holiday Inn Providence, now under renovation, changed flags and is now the Hilton Garden Inn Providence.

Providence hotels are wooing vacationers with ever more creative -- and targeted -- packages, according to Neil Schriever, vice president of sales at the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau.

We used to have a one-size-fits-all package program. Now, at our Web site we probably have nine different categories of packages for leisure travelers, Schriever said. It really has blossomed.

Foodies might like the Culinary Archives and Museum package at the Radisson Airport Hotel Providence [www.radisson.com/warwickri; (800) 333-3333]. Priced from $169 per couple, per night and available all year, it includes deluxe room, $50 credit at the Bistro restaurant, free breakfast and admission for two to the archives and museum at Johnson and Wales University.

For more info, contact the PWCVB at (401) 456-0200 or www.pwcvb.com.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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