McKee: ‘Heavy’ negotiations ongoing for Superman building, proposal ‘has legs’

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island officials said they are currently engaged in serious negotiations with the owner of the Industrial Trust Co. Building – Rhode Island’s tallest building, commonly known as the “Superman” building – on a proposal to redevelop the iconic downtown property into residential units.

Gov. Daniel J. McKee said the R.I. Department of Commerce is negotiating a deal with High Rock Development LLC that “has legs,” which could be completed “in the near distant” future, to turn the long vacant, former Providence office building into apartments.

R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor has been holding “daily” discussions for several months with the principal owner of High Rock Development, David C. Sweetser, a Massachusetts real-estate investor, to negotiate a financing deal for a redevelopment project. Pryor reportedly said he’s cautiously optimistic that a deal can be reached soon, involving the state contributing partial financing for the project.

“We are in the midst of constructive dialogue with the building owner,” said Pryor, in an emailed statement to Providence Business News. “While we are encouraged by the progress to date, negotiations are ongoing. A number of open issues remain. We will continue working collaboratively and intensively with all involved in order to resolve the remaining issues.”

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The 26-story, 350,000-square-foot building at 111 Westminster St., in the heart of downtown, has been vacant since Bank of America moved out in 2013.

“We’re in the heavy negotiations on that building right now,” said Gov. Daniel J. McKee, speaking recently on “In the Arena,” a local news program hosted by former Providence mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. on WNLE-TV ABC 6. “It’s been dark way too long. It’s an asset we’ve determined on a statewide basis that we want to keep. We’ve got to do something with it.” 

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-Providence, said in an emailed statement that he has not been briefed about redevelopment plans. But Ruggerio said that any proposal requiring legislative approval would “have to be thoroughly reviewed” by the Senate Finance Committee.

“The Superman Building is an iconic, historical structure that has sat empty for far too long,” Ruggerio said. “A mixed-use development that includes a residential component could help reinvigorate downtown Providence, helping to attract businesses and investment into our capital city. I would welcome such a proposal, and think it should warrant serious consideration.”

Cliff Wood, president of the nonprofit Providence Foundation, said he sent a letter to High Rock Development and Sweetser a letter on Dec. 7, urging the company to pursue a residential development project at the Industrial Trust Co. Building, while also acknowledging the challenges that such an undertaking would present and the need for state financing. Wood said the state could use federal pandemic relief funds to make the project a reality.

“The prospect of 500 or more residents living in that now vacant tower represents enormous opportunity for the city of Providence, the State of Rhode Island, and all of us who live and work here,” Wood wrote. “We understand that the economics of any proposed re-use of a tower of this size simply do not work on private financing alone. If they did, the building would be fully occupied by more residents than the Peregrine falcons currently ensconced among the parapets. The necessity of public investment is not, in our view, a sign of failure but rather one of opportunity.”

Providence Business News reached out to High Rock Development for comment on the negotiations, but has not yet heard back from the company.

Wood said the redevelopment of the 428-foot building would lead to greater safety and economic prosperity in the downtown, which would translate into a boon for the entire city and state.

While in the past proposals for commercial use of the property have fallen through, with companies like PayPal and Citizens Bank coming close to consummating deals to occupy the building, Wood said the current demand for residential units in Providence would help ensure the success of the project that’s now being negotiated by the state.

“We’re short on housing. This is meeting an obvious market demand,” Wood said. “We know now there is a strong demand for a particular type of use. … It’s obviously an iconic building for the state. We encourage any reasonable plan to see it be redeveloped. It would be really significant for the downtown and the local economy. It’s a lost opportunity to have it empty. It’s not neutral for it to be empty. It’s a negative pull.”

With the building nearing 100 years old, Wood said in his letter to High Rock Development that time is of the essence. State officials, including McKee, have said previously that the demolition of the property is on the table if a redevelopment deal is not reached.

“We are rapidly approaching the centennial of 111 Westminster St., and given the trials and tribulations surrounding this building over the past nine years since it became vacant, it is not hard to imagine it standing empty until it collapses,” Wood said. “If that were to occur, it would represent an enormous failure of leadership on the part of all us who care about this city and this state. We have an opportunity, in large part made possible by pandemic relief funding, to make investments that will chart the course of this community for decades to come.”

R.I. Commerce did not provide specifics on the redevelopment proposal, but it involves a combination of market-rate and affordable housing with some commercial space, according to Providence City Council President John J. Igliozzi, who was briefed on the plan recently. Igliozzi was unsure of the final price tag but said it would be “hundreds of millions,” funded through a combination of private financing and state and city tax credits.

Igliozzi likened the complex financing plan to what was used to fund redevelopment of the iconic Masonic Temple building, which was restored and reopened as a Marriott Renaissance hotel in 2017. That $87 million project took five years and was made possible through federal and state historic tax credit programs, along with city assistance.

Igliozzi was unsure exactly which state tax incentives the Superman proposal might qualify for, but said on the city side, the developer is vying for tax stabilization agreement which would shave off a majority of the property’s property tax payments for an initial period of time.

Igliozzi said the proposal “has merit” and stressed the importance of reviving the long-vacant property in some way.

“This project is going to take Superman and the entire Justice League to address,” he said. “We cannot allow for this building to lay fallow.”

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s office did not return inquiries for comment.

(PBN staff writer Nancy Lavin contributed to this report.)

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN. 


  1. As a current PVD, RI and U.S. taxpayer who worked in the Superman building for 12 years, I wouldn’t give Sweetser penny. He’s sat on his hands for far too long letting this iconic building deteriorate.
    Pryor doesn’t know what he is doing. Pryor is just a carpetbagger leftover from Gina’s time in office.