Arnold (Buff) Chace, Jr. '16

Founder & Managing Partner
Cornish Associates

Award Profile

Courageous Thinking and Actions
Buff Chace had a vision of change for Providence’s downtown in the 1990s. His idea was to transform the largely vacant Westminster Street area into a vibrant and attractive neighborhood combining housing, retail, office space, restaurants, and arts and culture activities. Transforming the city’s core would not be easy, but Buff was determined to take the architecturally stunning buildings left vacant by the unfortunate movement of industry out of the downtown and create mixed use buildings that would become the center of a thriving community. From the rehabilitation of the Peerless department store into 98 lofts, the signature building of five in the Westminster Loft system, to the re-envisioning of the first floor of the Biltmore garage into wonderfully active restaurants and shops, Buff’s vision has been instrumental to injecting life into Providence. As a result of the work of Cornish Associates, the firm Buff leads, students, young and older adults, entrepreneurs, artists, performers, workers and tourists come together each day on our city’s streets to participate in an enjoyable and energetic urban experience, otherwise known as Downcity Providence. More than two decades later, Buff continues to build upon his original ideas adding new restaurants, retail shops and gathering spaces to the downtown neighborhood.

Vision and Innovation
Taking on Providence during a time when businesses were not coming, but going -- or had gone --was a big decision. But Buff believed in order to bring investment and life into downtown, someone had to be first. He was inspired by his seven-year- old daughter Sarah who accompanied her dad downtown to look at the vacant buildings coming up for auction. When he explained that people had left the buildings and it was sad they were not re-filled, she encouraged her dad, “Why don’t you do something about it?” she asked. Working with the Coalition for Community Development, he engineered the purchase of a number of vacant, historic buildings around Westminster Street in the midst of a recession. Downtown was a less than desirable place to live, work and play but this courageous move and the subsequent efforts of Cornish to repurpose these buildings were the catalyst to starting downtown Providence on a new path. Buff is grateful for the support of his family in completing these projects.

Inspiring Leadership
Buff has inspired leadership among both government officials and investor/ developers in and outside of Providence to take part in the city’s revitalization. The district, though vacant, was a prime asset of the city. After the purchase of the vacant downtown buildings, Cornish Associates organized a downtown charette sponsored by the Providence Foundation and the City of Providence. Together with well known architects, designers, government officials, Providence residents and community and business leaders, they crafted and re-crafted plans over a series of months. The result: a plan for downtown that became known as the Providence Downcity Plan. The vision for Providence moved from paper to construction and Buff’s vision brought community leaders, financial institutions, and state and city officials together to push these projects to fruition.

Cornish’s continued transformation of Westminster Street and beyond has importantly inspired others to look at opportunities in Providence. Since Buff’s initial efforts, investors and developers have built the Dean Hotel, the Arcade Providence, the Providence G, Custom House and other quality projects to attract residents to this neighborhood and tourists to visit our city.

Community Mindedness
Dedicating time to assist organizations in the community is an important part of Buff’s daily life. He chooses the organizations he supports based on his passion for the smart growth and design of our communities, the building of a robust economic future for Providence, the protection of our surrounding environment and the integration of creative arts into our neighborhoods. He pours his tireless energy and big heart into carving new paths for the nonprofit organizations he works with. Buff is presently the chair of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, leading efforts to shape the public parks in downtown Providence including the revitalization of Kennedy Plaza. He is a longtime member of the organization’s executive committee. Previously, Buff led one of the largest and most successful capital campaigns for Trinity Repertory Company as its 10-year board chair. He was a founding board member of Grow Smart RI, served on the board of the Providence Preservation Society and is a fellow of the National Congress for New Urbanism.

JA Mission Moment
Buff believes when you have a passion for something, whether a hobby or career, you must share it with young people. He stated, “The greatest gift we as parents, community and business leaders can provide to our youth is the opportunity to share our experience.” Buff attempts to do this each day at Cornish. In fact, he cites one of Cornish’s most significant achievements as the opportunity to bring young people into the offices and onto key projects to take a hands on role in learning the work. Buff enjoys encouraging our younger generation to grow not only as individuals, but as stewards of the community in which they live. He has said, “Junior Achievement shows our young people they have a stake in our economy and in the health and well being of their community. JA helps them create a path to their future and that is a wonderful mission for an organization.”