Metro, News

N.Y. developer proposes constructing tallest building in Providence

Hope Point Tower would be 46 stories, provide luxury apartments in downtown Providence

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Superman building has some competition as an icon in the city skyline if New York developer Jason Fane receives approval to build the Hope Point Tower, a 46-story luxury apartment building proposed for downtown Providence. Since January, the City Council and numerous Providence community members have been divided on the subject, questioning the tower’s economic and societal contributions.

The proposed location for the tower was once a part of the I-195 highway, but when the highway was moved, land was made available for development. The I-195 Commission recommended that Fane move forward with the project in January, but the proposal is now in the hands of the City Council, said Peter McNally, executive director of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.

The area slated for construction is zoned for 100-foot tall buildings, but the Hope Point Tower would be close to 600 feet tall, McNally said. As a result, the Hope Point Tower would require a zoning change, which requires City Council approval, he added.

This zoning change has been a point of controversy for the tower. In July, the City Council’s Committee on Ordinances voted to deny recommending the change, the Providence Journal reported.

In addition, some residents question if there is a market for the luxury apartment complex in Providence. A feasibility study by New Jersey-based Real Estate Solutions Group found that Fane will have to price the luxury apartments at higher than typical Providence rates to make a profit, which suggests that Fane might struggle to find tenants and get a return on his investment.

Following the findings, Fane said at a I-195 Commission hearing that “we strongly dispute its conclusions.”

Marty Saklad, broker at Samson Realty on Wickenden Street, would like to see development of the downtown Providence area and believes the desire to invest is a positive sign for the city, he wrote in an email to The Herald. But Saklad worried that there isn’t a market for more luxury housing in that area.

“Maybe we’re wrong and he’ll get a return,” McNally said, “but it’s his money.”

Dante Bellini, a spokesperson for Fane, said the argument that there is not a market for the luxury housing is “hollow” and perpetuates the false idea that “no one else has the … ability to come into the market” besides those who already own luxury apartments.

“Perhaps a better use could be found for the space,” Saklad wrote. “There are many landlords on the East Side and downtown who may be hurt by excess development that may cannibalize instead of expanding the market.”

Professor of American Studies and Urban Studies Samuel Zipp also questioned whether downtown Providence can support multiple luxury apartments. “In general, it would be better for the city if the state kept working toward encouraging housing and business development from the ground up rather than trying to score big projects like this one,” Zipp wrote in an email to The Herald, adding that he would like to see the project push more affordable housing.

Including affordable housing in the project is “not on the table for us” and is not right for this project, Bellini said, adding that tax revenue taken from the development would help the city.“The ripple effect (from) this will be quite extraordinary,” he said.

Typically, “building more housing brings prices down,” McNally said, adding that the tower could help lower rents in the city.

Overall, McNally does not believe the increase in residential properties itself will spur economic growth. The interest of the commission is to “develop good buildings” with mixed uses, he said. Generally, the commission would be more animated about proposals that facilitate “the creation of knowledge-based industry jobs and advance the buildout of the Innovation District,” McNally wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

“In the end, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the tower is built, but I also wonder if it might never get built even if it were approved,” Zipp wrote, describing the project as an “over-the-top scheme” and “obviously out-of-scale” with its surroundings.

“We have a silly history of falling for moon-shotty, one-size-fits-all ideas in economic development when a more human-scaled, gradual and achievable program would be much more successful — if only it could find funders and political sponsors,” Zipp wrote.

“When the Superman building was built, it was too big for the area,” Bellini said, adding that it’s still standing today.

Moving forward, the Fane Organization will hold a presentation explaining how their project promotes economic development and the City Council Committee on Ordinances will oversee a public hearing on the project Oct. 22 at City Hall.