‘Superman’ bldg owner ‘bullish on Providence,’ considers many uses

THE OWNER OF THE INDUSTRIAL TRUST TOWER, known as the ‘Superman building,’ is looking to redevelop the iconic 1927 structure, and is considering residential, office and retail tenants.
Posted 1/31/13

PROVIDENCE – The owner of the Industrial Trust Tower said he believes there is demand for new apartments downtown, but is not ruling out any mix of uses for the landmark known as the “Superman building.”

David Sweetser, founder of High Rock Development LLC, is keeping a wide range of redevelopment options – including new offices – alive for the 26-story tower, which is set to lose its only tenant this spring, he said Thursday.

Those options include apartments, shops, offices and even student housing or services.

“There has been a need for housing in Providence for some time, and I think this would go a long way toward satisfying that,” Sweetser said. “Clearly there seems to be a pulse there, but I don’t know yet how viable it is. There could be other uses and a market for offices, retail and student housing.”

To decide how to redevelop the building, completed in 1928 for the Industrial Trust Company bank, Sweetser has hired Providence-based Cornish Associates to study potential conversion options, and determine physical viability and market demand.

Beyond the feasibility study, Sweetser said he sees Cornish as a long-term partner in redeveloping the building and working with the numerous community, government and business stakeholders who will be involved.

Cornish President and CEO Arnold “Buff” Chace Jr. said he thinks apartments make the most sense from a development standpoint and hopes that the feasibility study will bear that out. He said anywhere from 200 to 300 units, in sizes sizes ranging from small studios to larger suites, could be possible in the tower.

Chace said he expects to finish the feasibility study by the end of March.

Sweetser said the building could be a renovated in a way in which one use dominates or could include apartments, offices, shops and restaurants in a lively mix.

One scenario of many would include retail on the first three floors, with a few offices above, and then apartments above that, he said. Another would target the strong demand in the city for student housing.

High Rock Westminster LLC, another of Sweetser’s ventures, bought the art deco tower, also known as 111 Westminster St., in 2008 for $33 million.

When his company purchased the tower, Sweetser said he considered the possibility that he may have to transform the building at some point, although he acknowledged that having Bank of America stay would also have been a good outcome.

In addition to its architecture, Sweetser said the fact that the Superman building is being vacated all at once makes it unique for a large tower, providing a rare challenge and opportunity.

As for when he will decide on a development plan, Sweetser said he hopes it will be in the spring or summer, but couldn’t completely rule out pushing his decision back if more information is needed to “get it right.”

“I am bullish on Providence. I think it is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the next 10 to 20 years and that is the type of timeline you would look at,” Sweetser said. “This is not an 18-month or 12-month or six-month endeavor. I bought this building five years ago and am looking forward to a long relationship with Providence.”

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