A new design for a 550-foot skyscraper known as the Fane Tower was brought before the I-195 Commission at a meeting Jan. 18.
But while the Fane Organization, led by President Jason Fane, had approval for the previous design, the new plan will go through the commission’s approval process again, said Marc Crisafulli, current chair of the I-195 commission, at the meeting.
The tower has been controversial since its initial proposal seven years ago, with the most recent design garnering mixed reviews from community members.
New design presented at meeting
“In this economy, the previous design simply cannot be built,” wrote Jim Malachowski, a spokesperson for the Fane Organization, in an email to The Herald. “Inflation, supply chain issues, major increases in the cost of construction materials and higher interest rates have significantly raised construction costs.”
While the commission supported the previous plan, it will now “work aggressively on this alternative design with all stakeholders,” Crisafulli said. “Our hope is that a partnership approach can improve the project.”
With the redesign, the group worked to reduce construction costs and increase leasable space, explained Jeff Padwa, an attorney representing the Fane Organization, at the meeting.
“This project will create over 1,500 construction jobs,” Padwa said. He added that the completed project will generate $250 million in tax revenue over the next 40 years, along with over $86 million in construction wages.
“The project will bring energy and vitality to the city,” Malachowski wrote. “Six hundred eighteen residential units will house close to 900 people who will add to the mix and flavor of Providence. Local businesses will also benefit from their presence.”
At the meeting, Eric Zuena, managing principal of ZDS, the architecture firm that designed the tower, presented side-by-side views of the new design compared to the version issued for review in September 2019. He highlighted changes regarding planned floor use, construction materials and four requested zoning variances for the project.
Residential units jumped from 557 to 618 with the redesign, while parking spaces were reduced from 333 to 166. “We think that satisfies all our market needs for these 600-plus units,” Zuena said at the meeting.
Following the design presentation at the meeting, Tim Love from Utile, Inc. — a consultant for the commission — presented recommendations regarding the new design. Before the meeting, Utile sent a memo to the commission recommending that they not approve the project until Fane makes “significant design revisions.”
Love cited several concerns with the new design, including wind impacts and design changes impacting the building’s aesthetic and functional fit with the city.
The protruding balconies of the original design are considered best practice to mitigate wind impacts around the structure, but the smoother airfoil shape of the new design “can create adverse wind effects,” Love said at the meeting. Utile’s analysis showed that those effects would impact the adjacent Providence Innovation District Park, especially during winter months.
According to Malachowski, a wind study was previously conducted and another will be performed for the new design. With “other wind mitigation measures,” the Fane Organization does “do not anticipate wind from the tower being a problem.”
The Providence Preservation Society has concerns about the proposed tower’s location, compliance with zoning and the scope of rentals offered, Advocacy Manager Adriana Hazelton told The Herald. She also questioned the sustainability of a large structure on Parcel 42’s riverfront site, “especially in the face of climate change.”
“The building will be completely safe as it will be anchored to bedrock” similar to the anchoring pillars used for the Empire State Building in New York City, Malachowski wrote.
Economic impacts of the towers
Some community members highlighted the economic benefits of the project while others voiced concerns about the building’s scale and location as well as the lack of available information.
According to Greg Mancini, a representative for the trade organization BuildRI, the Fane Tower is the second-largest construction project in Providence’s history and would generate 1,500 direct and indirect jobs along with $250 million “much-needed property tax revenue” for the city.
“Market conditions have changed so much that just about every private sector project is drying up,” Mancini said, noting that the $300 million project could support private sector economic development.
Despite potential construction jobs, for Hazelton, concerns remain about community impact. “It creates construction jobs, but then it will end and then what’s next?” she said. “Will the construction jobs created be for Providence and Rhode Island construction workers?”
“Providence and Rhode Island construction workers will fill these jobs, but it is impossible to predict the residences of all of the construction workers,” Malachowski wrote.
At the meeting, Sharon Steele, president of Building Bridges Providence and president of the Jewelry District Association, discussed concerns over a lack of publicly available data regarding market need for the new design, a vetted cost estimation and the structural engineering analysis by Odeh Engineering. She agreed with Utile’s recommendation that the commission not approve the new design.
The closing date on the sale of the parcel to the Fane Organization is set for March 2023 after multiple extensions from its original April 2020 date. The sale is contingent on Fane securing financing commitments and signing a construction contract, WPRI reported — something Fane will not do until the design is approved, Malachowski wrote.
At the meeting, Steele requested that any further extension of the deadline “be coupled with a completion guarantee from Fane, as there is a real-world risk that Fane will never be able to complete this project, irrespective of whether the commission approves this new design,” Steele said.
Following the meeting, the commission accepted additional public comment for one week, and when all parties are prepared, a second meeting will be scheduled for the revised design and a potential vote, Crisafulli said.
“We feel unheard”: housing and community concerns
PPS also has concerns about the tower given that it uses “land that was taken by eminent domain and displaced tons of residents,” Hazelton added. But using the land that the government took for public benefit to build “ultra-luxury housing” is “very insensitive,” she added.
“These are very high-end units, and no one seems to know where exactly that market’s going to be in the Rhode Island or greater Providence and Boston market,” added Fox Point Neighborhood Association President Nick Cicchitelli.
“We do need residents downtown,” Cicchitelli said. “We don’t want a ghost building.”
Malachowski, explained that there is demand for all types of housing and pointed to Fane’s 50-plus years in residential development, which have “given him confidence to invest a substantial amount of money in this project to date with millions more to come.”
“If this was a private developer on private land, it’s one thing, but if this interrupts the 195 Development District vision, then you absolutely need to incorporate community concerns,” Cicchitelli said.
Cicchitelli also discussed concerns about market need for the building and lack of transparency, and he disputed Zuena’s claim that the proposed parking is enough. He said the new design disregards those who have repeatedly called for more parking on the parcel.
“We feel unheard,” Cicchitelli said.