Nearly a year ago High Rock Development proposed a mixed, commercial/residential redevelopment of 111 Westminster Street in Providence, using up to $75 million in public support. The latter ranged from state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits to city property tax breaks and $39 million in direct state subsidies.
Last week the developer was back in the news with a proposal that was more of the same for the 26-story tower popularly known as the “Superman Building,” with a few extras.
• High Rock committed to giving $500,000 over a decade for the redevelopment of Kennedy Plaza.
• The developer proposed that the $39 million be paid over four years and held in escrow until an occupancy permit has been issued. And, should High Rock refinance or sell the building, $9 million of that would be returned to a state development fund.
• High Rock Principal David Sweetser offered to purchase a private completion bond to cover the full project costs.
These new wrinkles are good, but they are not enough to make this deal attractive.
However, the demand for housing in the city center is high. And simply put, the city needs jobs. According to High Rock, the project should generate 1,000 construction jobs and 230 permanent jobs in addition to potentially adding more than 400 residents to the city.
What to do? First, instead of a $39 million grant, why not make the state cash an equity investment? In addition, High Rock must purchase a completion bond large enough to cover the potential cost overruns.
It clearly is in the public interest for 111 Westminster Street to be redeveloped. Let’s just make sure that the public doesn’t get the wool pulled over its eyes just to get a deal done. •
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