Fane tower redesign meets vocal opposition

THE FANE ORGANIZATION presented updated design plans for its planned luxury tower on Jan. 18. / COURTESY FANE ORGANIZATION

PROVIDENCE – The Fane tower plan is back – and so is its loud opposition.

The Fane Organization presented new design plans for its luxury tower at an I-195 Redevelopment District Commission hearing on Wednesday evening, a presentation that was followed by a lengthy session of public comment and animated discussion.

Neighborhood organizations, residents and local leaders spoke mostly in opposition but also some support for the new design for the $300 million luxury tower, proposed on former Interstate 195 land at 250 Dyer St. It was a full house at 225 Dyer St., right next door to where the Fane tower would be built if approved.

The new design, first submitted in December, changes the building’s façade, adding “curvilinear lines and rounded corners” and reducing the number and size of balconies. The podium was reduced in height, going from six to four stories, which allows the tower to have three additional floors of residential units but also reduces the number of available parking spaces from 330 to 166.

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While the building’s height remains the same, at 550 feet, the total number of stories increased from 46 to 47 and the number of residential units increased from 557 to 618.

New York developer Jason Fane said in a statement that the changes to the design were made to reduce costs and “maintain project feasibility.” At Wednesday’s meeting, representatives for the project echoed the sentiment, saying that the changes were triggered by budget constraints.

“The new design preserves Fane’s core vision of an iconic modern residential tower with unobstructed panoramic views from almost every apartment,” said Fane spokesperson Jim Malachowski in a statement. “Mr. Fane is delivering on his promise.”

Before Wednesday’s meeting, the commission’s consultant, Utile Architecture and Planning, had submitted a memo asking the commission to delay approval “until and unless there are significant design revisions.” The memo pointed out several shortcomings of the project’s new designs, citing unsatisfactory podium and tower designs, unsatisfactory site plan and potential negative impact on wind patterns.

Removing the balconies eliminates what Utile calls “the tower’s most distinguishing feature” and results in an “overly monolithic structure,” much different from the original tower.

Addressing the consultant’s concerns that the building could have a negative impact on wind patterns, Fane representatives said they are working to ensure there are no adverse effects.

The new design also significantly alters the podium, which Utile said is now “simplistic” and lacking “the positive design qualities of the original proposal,” in contrast to the original design, which worked better with neighboring buildings. But Fane’s representatives said the new podium’s design is now more consistent with the rest of the tower.

Utile also criticized the “redundancy” of having three garage doors on the ground floor that interfere with the entrance to the park and to access to the sidewalk.

Several people in the audience raised concerns about the project’s lack of parking spaces and questioned whether there is a market to support it.

Sharon Steele, speaking in her role as president of Building Bridges and a resident of the Jewelry District, pointed out that Fane has failed to provide market studies to show real market demand for the building and cost estimates to prove the design changes were indeed necessary and cost-saving.

Representatives for the project reinforced the economic impact it would have on the city, stressing how the project would earn the city millions of dollars in property taxes and create thousands of jobs.

But some in attendance were skeptical.

Brent Runyon, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society, said the commission should “kill the project” once and for all.

“Since this project was proposed, a lot has changed. It was approved when there wasn’t much going on, we were desperate for development,” Runyon said.

Toots Zynsky said design concerns are superficial, and the developer should be addressing the building’s water and electricity use.

“That building should only be allowed to be built if it can prove self-sustainability, but they’ve made no indication of any commitment or interest in doing that,” she said.

The project was not without its share of support, albeit much smaller than its opposition. Michael Sabitoni, of the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council, said the opposition is made up of a “local minority” that has opposed the project since its birth. But thousands of people will be positively affected, he said, including thousands of workers waiting for projects of this size. It will “put Providence on the map” and create significant economic development, he said.

“You’ll never have a perfect project,” Sabitoni said. “Some buildings you like, some you don’t. But we need this project.”

Greg Mancini, of the trade organization Build RI, echoed Sabitoni’s sentiment.

“Markets change. I think the changes requested are reasonable in light of significant market change,” Mancini said. “This is a significant project, important to the city of Providence, important to the men and women I represent.”

Others pointed out the multiple deadline extensions Fane has requested — and obtained —in the six years since the project was first introduced. For many, the new design is just the latest attempt to delay committing to the project.

“There is a real-world risk Fane will never be able to complete this project,” said Steele. “We’ve all had quite enough. Enough to last a lifetime.”

The commission did not vote on Wednesday. It will continue to receive public feedback for one week and will “potentially” vote at its next meeting on Feb. 15.

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