Cornish tapped to convert Superman building to apartments

PROVIDENCE DEVELOPER CORNISH ASSOCIATES has been hired to study the potential of turning the iconic 1927 Industrial National Trust building into residential units.
Posted 1/29/13

PROVIDENCE - Cornish Associates has been hired to redevelop the Industrial Trust Tower at 111 Westminster St. in downtown Providence and turn the city’s tallest building into apartments, Cornish president and CEO Arnold “Buff” Chace Jr. said Tuesday.

The owner of the tower, High Rock Westminster LLC, picked Cornish to reinvent the property, known locally as the “Superman building,” late last year, Chace said, because of the Providence firm’s success revitalizing several blocks of Westminster Street.

As a first step, Cornish has commissioned a feasibility study to find out whether a residential conversion of the 26-story art-deco tower is physically and economically possible.

The study is expected to be finished by the end of March, Chace said, and the findings will be used by High Rock Development Managing Partner David Sweetser to decide whether to go ahead with construction.

“We will look at the regulations and physically if it is possible, with health, fire and safety stuff, then what is the cost and will rents support it,” Chace said.

“From my perspective as a downtown person, 200 to 300 units of housing downtown is just what the doctor ordered,” Chace said. “We need more of that and less office to have downtown revitalized for 21st century needs. I am hoping it will work.”

111 Westminster Street’s current tenant, Bank of America, has been steadily moving employees from the tower, built in 1927, to nearby offices and plans to completely vacate the building by March.

Wellesley, Mass.-based High Rock bought 111 Westminster in 2008 for $33 million, according to Providence assessor’s records.

Chace declined to say how much he expects a conversion of the tower will cost, but said it would need the state to restore its historic tax credit program, in addition to federal historic tax credits, to be viable.

Previous Cornish downtown Providence development projects include the Westminster Lofts, Peerless Lofts and new Biltmore Garage shops.

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