At the I-195 Commision's Wednesday meeting, the designers of the proposed Fane Tower skyscraper presented solutions to issues raised at the commission’s January meeting.
The building’s design has gone through several iterations — with the original plans including three separate towers — but the Fane Organization’s current proposal has not yet been approved. Before the January meeting, a consultant for the commission sent a memo recommending that the project’s design not be approved until “significant design revisions” were made.
At the meeting, Gianni Ria, a director of engineering and architecture for the IBI Group, presented design updates.
“We took seriously those recommendations and those concerns, and we went back to the drawing board,” Ria said. “We’re here tonight presenting a hopefully acceptable solution to those concerns.”
Ria’s presentation was followed by public comment and questions.
At the Jan. meeting, Tim Love from Utile Inc. — the consultant for the commission — presented concerns about potential wind impacts from the 550-foot tower, which would be constructed on Dyer Street adjacent to the Innovation District Park.
The design of the tower reviewed at that meeting, released in December, eliminated protruding balconies present in the original design. In response, Utile suggested that “a smoother facade might increase wind speeds at ground level,” according to a memo released by the Fane Organization.
Because the revised design has not changed in height or shape, the wind will only affect a handful of locations — notably, the northwest and southwest corners of the space, Ria said. To mitigate those impacts, the updated design presented at Wednesday’s meeting incorporates landscaping and screening as wind remediation measures.
According to Ria, the tower will now be surrounded by additional greenery, metal screens and a fence around the perimeter. Those additions will also add privacy and create a “visual barrier” between the building’s loading bay and the park.
Other features of the new design will also create a more “welcoming residential feel to the podium,” with backlit paneling that creates “interest and complexity” and a “softer” aesthetic.
Ria also addressed other criticisms of the tower design from Utile — particularly the removal of balconies, the change from a single-access garage door to multiple garage doors and what Utile described as “unsightly” electrical transformers on the building.
IBI chose to go forward with plans to remove balconies and build multiple garage doors for budget and safety reasons, respectively, according to the memo. The transformers will now be hidden with a “combination of screens and plantings.”
Despite the proposed changes, concerns about the project persisted at the meeting.
Several attendees raised questions about whether the construction is still viable financially, though Ria assured the public that the budget was being adjusted accordingly.
Lorenzo Apicella, the design representative for the Jewelry District Association, said in his public comments that while the project predates his time in Providence, it "appears it was given permission to proceed with design development ... because its backers argued it was an iconic design that justified it being grossly over-scaled for its location."
But without near-continuous external balconies, the tower no longer appears to be a residential building and instead presents as an office building.
The plans, Apicella said, “should be rejected again, not only on their details but on their fundamental difference from what was promised.”
“Construction costs of this detail proved prohibitive,” according to the memo from Fane. “The new tower design presents a more harmonious form with greater symmetry that creates an equally iconic landmark on the skyline.”
Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association voiced concerns about the project’s financing and the level of market demand for the project — adding that Fane has struggled to meet “contractual deadlines.”
Jim Malachowski, a spokesperson for the Fane Organization, previously wrote in an email to The Herald that the real estate experience of Fane Organization President Jason Fane provided him “confidence to invest a substantial amount of money in this project to date with millions more to come.”
“Continued extensions and accommodations to Fane by the Commission only create greater delay and inevitable failure,” Steele said. Originally set to be sold in April 2020, the parcel for the tower now has a final sale date in March after multiple extensions, The Herald previously reported.
Steele recommended that the Commission should “summarily reject Fane’s request for a design change.”
Fane will not sign a construction contract or secure financing commitments — two conditions for the sale — until the design is approved, Malachowski previously wrote.In late January, Marc Crisafulli, chair of the commission, told WPRI in late January that he thought it was “unlikely” that Fane would close on the land before its March 28 deadline — and did not specify whether Fane would receive another extension.
Greg Mancini, a representative for the trade organization BuildRI, agreed that the process had gone on too long — but instead asked the commission to approve the design changes to allow Fane to go forward with construction.
“This is the second-largest construction project in the history of the city of Providence,” Mancini said. The construction would create 1,500 jobs, more than $85 million in wages and $250 million in tax revenue for the city, among other benefits, he added. “It has too much of an economic impact to not let this project go forward.”
After additional presentations about the impacts of construction and further comments from the public, the meeting was adjourned. A vote on the design’s approval will take place at the commission’s March meeting.
Clarification: This story has been updated to include the full context of Lorenzo Apicella's public comments.
Liliana Greyf is a senior staff writer covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, and Brown's relationship with Providence. She is a freshman studying Literary Arts and a proponent of most pickled vegetables.