PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Providence Mayor Joseph A. Doorley Jr., who helped build what is now known as the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in an effort to revitalize the city’s desolate downtown, has died. He was 91.

Doorley’s death was confirmed by the current mayor, Jorge Elorza, who offered his condolences and said the city flag will fly at half-staff in his honor.

“Mayor Doorley was a public servant who led the Providence community honorably for 10 years,” Elorza wrote on Twitter. “Among his biggest accomplishments were becoming a champion of equitable housing and being a strong fiscal steward of the city’s finances.”

After serving two years on the Providence City Council, Doorley was elected mayor in 1964 at the age of 34, defeating Republican Charles A. Kilvert in a landslide to become the city’s youngest mayor until that time. He won re-election in 1966 and 1970 before his 1974 loss to Republican Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., who ended 34 years of Democratic control over Rhode Island’s capital city. 

“Joe was just a great mayor, and he’s a great person,” former Mayor Joseph Paolino said in 2012. “When I was mayor I was so fortunate to have Joe to call upon for advice.”

By the time Doorley was sworn into office in 1965, Providence was in the midst of steep population decline that saw the city lose nearly 100,000 residents between 1940 and 1980 as manufacturing jobs dried up and people flocked to the suburbs in the years following World War II. As a result, the city’s downtown retail district collapsed, closing businesses and leaving the area around City Hall a shell of what it was during the early 1900s.

Doorley’s vision for saving downtown included the construction of the Providence Civic Center, the 12,000-seat indoor arena that has hosted Providence College basketball, the NCAA men’s basketball and hockey tournaments, professional hockey and hundreds of family-friendly attractions since it opened its doors in 1972. The building was renamed the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in 2001.

VIDEO NOW: Construction of the Providence Civic Center (Story continues below the video.)

Doorley also presided over the city during the civil rights movement, and he strongly supported a 1967 plan to desegregate Providence’s elementary schools. He was considered a strong advocate for the poor, creating Progress for Providence, an anti-poverty agency. He also helped build four elderly high-rise towers throughout the city.

Long considered a machine politician, Doorley watched as the city’s Democratic Party unraveled in 1974, leading to a contentious primary between Doorley and Francis Brown. Even though Doorley won the primary, the party was fractured enough that Cianci — then a 33-year-old Republican prosecutor — stunned the sitting mayor by defeating him in the November election.

Doorley lived in Florida in his later years. In 2012, a three-story building at 444 Westminster St. that houses the city’s planning department was renamed the Joseph A. Doorley Jr. Municipal Building. Doorley attended the dedication with his family.

“His leadership and role in our city’s history will not be forgotten,” tweeted Angel Taveras, who was mayor when the building was dedicated to Doorley, on Monday. “My deepest condolences to his family.”

Born in Providence in 1930, Doorley attended LaSalle Academy, the University of Notre Dame and Boston College Law School. His official papers are archived at Providence College.

Dan McGowan is a former 12 News reporter who covered Providence.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.