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'Superman building' plan seeks $39M in state help

Erika Niedowski, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The owner of the vacant "Superman building" in downtown Providence said Tuesday its plans to redevelop it into apartments would require $39 million in state support and major additional investments by the city and federal government.

The proposal by High Rock Development envisions transforming the 26-story building — the state's tallest, and the most distinctive in the modest city skyline — into 278 rental apartments. It would also create 33,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and offices on the lower floors.

But the developer is seeking major public investments at a time when that might not be politically palatable, given Rhode Island's failed $75 million loan guarantee to former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company. 38 Studios collapsed into bankruptcy last year, and the state is on the hook for some $100 million related to the deal.

High Rock Development, based in Newton, Mass., is seeking a total of $39 million in support from the state. That would likely include historic tax credits in a program the General Assembly is considering reviving, but could come in other forms, spokesman Bill Fischer said.

The plan also calls for a 17-year tax stabilization agreement with the city worth $10 million to $15 million as well as $21 million in federal historic tax credits. High Rock would invest $55 million in cash equity and debt.

The "Superman building" lost its sole tenant in mid-April when Bank of America closed its branch on the first floor.

State legislative leaders have said they're open to vetting High Rock's proposal but are wary of providing large amounts of support to any single project. House Speaker Gordon Fox, who supports bringing back the historic tax credit program, wants a per-project cap of $5 million. He has said that projects shouldn't have to rely on more than that to succeed.

"Most projects fall within that," Fox said.

An economic impact study commissioned by High Rock said the project would bring $4.6 million in tax revenue and support nearly 1,100 jobs during 30 months of construction — as well as create 230 permanent jobs. The report, released Tuesday, said the conversion would ultimately pump $26 million into the economy each year, including from retail spending by the building's 450 residents, spending to operate the building and "ripple-effect" activity.

There is "limited potential" for office development and leaving it as vacant office space would drag down the market and result in lower property values across downtown, according to the study.

The city has commissioned an independent study of the economic impact of converting the building to apartments, with taxpayer support.

Fischer said High Rock understands it is seeking public financial backing in a tough political climate. But he said he hopes the project will be weighed on its merits.

"We're the first ones to enter the fog of 38 (Studios) and so we are judged with extra scrutiny, I think — and that's good," Fischer said. "But we want people to really look at these numbers and really understand the consequences of inaction."

A spokesman for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras had no immediate comment.


Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed to this report.