Providence doesn’t have a monopoly on former Bank of America office buildings.
The financial giant has shed a lot of office space in recent years and about 70 miles due west of Providence’s Industrial Trust building in Connecticut, Hartford’s vacant Bank of America tower rises an identical 26 stories above that city’s downtown.
Last week, a Connecticut developer began construction on a $78.1 million renovation of 777 Main St., Hartford’s former Bank of America building, after securing a public-sector financing package from a mix of five federal, state and quasi-state agencies.
The reluctance of government leaders to contribute to converting Providence’s vacant skyscraper has so far foiled the plans of owner High Rock Development, which is expected to make a new request for financial assistance to Rhode Island lawmakers as early as this week.
So why has Fairfield, Conn., architect and developer Becker and Becker Associates found financing for its residential conversion while High Rock and development partner Cornish Associates are still lobbying for support for the Superman Building at 111 Westminster Street?
A closer look at the Hartford project shows that previous tenant, building size and number of planned apartments aside, it’s a very different property from the Superman Building.
For one thing, Providence’s 86-year-old tower is much older than Hartford’s 47-year-old building, and the additional decades of wear and tear are showing at 111 Westminster St.
High Rock is currently suing Bank of America for deferred maintenance and neglect, while Becker and Becker President Bruce Becker described the condition of 777 Main St. as “very good,” even though it had gone unheated for three years after the bank left.
And while neither building was designed for people to live in, the midcentury, modern layout of Hartford’s tower, with uniform rectangular floor plates, translates more easily to housing than the tiered, art deco configuration of the Superman Building.
“The building floor plate is ideally suited for a residential conversion,” Becker said about 777 Main. “The easiest part of the project was design and construction.”