Metro, News

City Council hosts hearing on Hope Point Tower

Developer Jason Fane addresses community concerns over 46-story luxury building proposal

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Members of the community attended Monday night’s Providence City Council meeting on the Hope Point Tower project. The Council is considering approving a zoning change to permit the 46-story building’s construction.

A large crowd of people spilled into the hallways of Providence City Hall at Monday night’s City Council meeting to discuss the biggest news in town — the proposed 46-story Hope Point Tower project that has divided the city.

The City Council’s Committee on Ordinances held a public hearing to give Jason Fane, the building’s developer, and the people of Providence a chance to speak about the project. The tower — which will host luxury apartments, restaurants and retail stores — is slated to be the tallest building in the city and would be built on former I-195 land downtown.

Monday’s meeting was only a public hearing, but the Committee will make a recommendation to the City Council on whether or not to approve a zoning change that would be necessary to construct the building. Fane is attempting to build the 600-foot-tall building in a lot designated for 100-foot-tall buildings. This maximum height restriction was set by a comprehensive zoning plan completed three years ago.

At Monday’s meeting, the crowd was vocal and divided. Committee Chair Terrence Hassett from Ward 12 warned the crowd several times that he would have to ask people to leave if they were too loud and pounded his gavel often throughout the meeting.

People wearing safety green windbreakers, Carhartt sweatshirts and work boots were prominent among in the crowd. Dozens of union laborers turned out in support of the building because Fane has committed to using one hundred percent union labor for the project. The tower is projected to create 15,000 jobs, according to Edward Mazze, professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island.

Mazze gave a presentation in support of the tower, saying that he believed it would be a positive addition to the city. “First of all, this could make Downtown Providence’s economy boom. Second, it could make Providence more vibrant,” he said.

Mazze acknowledged that many of the jobs created would be in construction, which would result in a temporary boost to the economy. But the building will create jobs long after its completion in building management, retail and hospitality, he noted.

Only 3.7 percent of Providence’s rental units are unoccupied, Mazze said. This indicates that there is a market for the tower’s apartments, which could cater to college students and recent graduates. The building will contribute huge revenue for the city, Mazze added, saying non-property tax revenue during construction is estimated to amount to $12.7 million.

“Think of what that would do for Providence,” he said.

Following Mazze’s presentation, Friedrich St. Florian, architect of the WWII memorial on the National Mall, spoke in favor of the current design and height of the building.

Florian noted that mid-sized cities, and university cities in particular, offer a high quality of life that could attract a wealthy demographic. In his opinion, many attributes of Providence could draw people to the city, including hospitals, restaurants, walkable streets and the “bicycles and scooters,” a nod to jump bikes and ride-sharing scooters.

He urged the Council to change the zoning ordinance. “City ordinances are indeed useful planning tools to safeguard public interest as a vision at the particular time for the foreseeable future, but they are not cast in stone. They are scaffolding.”

Fane’s land-use attorney William Landry said that the building was in accordance with the spirit of the comprehensive zoning plan, even if it required a change to the zoning ordinance.

While critics of Fane’s proposal have cited it as an example of spot zoning — when zoning laws are circumvented for the benefit of a single development — Landry said that the City Council has discretionary power to decide the height of buildings.

Landry reminded the audience that the building’s aesthetics were not the subject of the hearing. “Design is an issue for another day,” he said.

The Fane presentation concluded with words from Jason Fane himself, who said that he believes the building would benefit the city by bringing housing, tax revenue, jobs and economic growth.

“I have great faith in Providence,” Fane said, adding that he would invest $300 million from his personal funds to realize the project.

After the Fane Organization’s 50-minute presentation    which was originally supposed to be a half hour — the floor was opened to the public.

The majority of the speakers were against the tower.

“I see the appeal of a large investment. … However, I strongly urge you to vote no for this proposal in its current location,” said Executive Secretary of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association Amy Mendillo.

Mendillo asked the Council to respect the comprehensive zoning plan. “The comprehensive plan is working” and incorporated the community’s vision for the city, she said.

James Hughes, founder of Boston Andes Capital, said that his firm has invested money in projects in the city but will leave if the tower is built. Other investors — who, like Hughes, have had to comply with the comprehensive plan in the past — will leave with him, he said.

The Hope Point Tower “has the ability to arrest other developments,” Hughes said, since apartment units in the tower will likely be priced much higher than other housing in the city. “We don’t want to reinvent Providence, we want to restore it.”

Paul MacDonald, president of the Providence Central Labor Council, which represents 29,000 union workers, said that he supports the project and feels that it is a move toward progress.

Mentioning the Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence Place and even the Superman building, MacDonald said that people had previously been worried of large, new construction, but that they ultimately proved to be positive projects. “If we’re not going to build, we’re not going to move,” he said.

MacDonald wasn’t the only one to make mention of Providence’s most iconic building. Several individuals pointed out the Superman building’s vacancy, and asked Fane and the city to reinvest in the 90-year-old building to grow the economy instead of building something new.

The meeting took a different turn when Al Sapienza, star of The Sopranos and Brotherhood, got up to speak and introduced himself to Hassett with the words, “I played your mayor on Brotherhood.” Sapienza explained that he currently lives in Fane’s most recent project in Toronto.

Calling Fane a “great guy,” he said it’s not often that you become friends with the developer of the building you live in. Sapienza said that the project in Toronto faced community criticism too, but that after it was built it changed the neighborhood. “I think it’s a gift to have somebody come to your city … and want to build,” he said.

Many people advocated a for a compromise on the design, including Dianne Witman, independent candidate for governor.

“We should not say no because of the current design’s shortcomings,” Witman said. “I believe a compromise can be struck. We must not stand in the way of progress.”

The three-and-half hour meeting went “as expected,” said Dante Bellini, a spokesperson for Fane. They were “happy about what they presented,” which were the facts, he said.   

When asked if Fane would consider changing the design of the building, Bellini said, “We have no obligation to build something that somebody else wants.”

One Comment

  1. This would be great for providence. Built it.

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