Providence Redevelopment Agency approves $10M loan for ‘Superman’ building

THE PROVIDENCE REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY voted unanimously on May 16 to authorize the agency to provide
THE PROVIDENCE REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY voted unanimously on May 16 to authorize the agency to provide "Superman" building owner High Rock Development LLC with a $10 million loan as part of the proposed $223.1 million renovation of the building at 111 Westminster St. into 285 apartments. / PBN FILE PHOTO/

PROVIDENCE – Another $10 million in financing was secured as part of the proposed redevelopment of the former Industrial Trust Co. headquarters, the 26-story skyscraper commonly known as the “Superman” building, after Providence Redevelopment Agency board members voted unanimously on Monday to authorize the agency to provide a loan, promissory note and mortgage needed for the project.

The vote by the Providence Redevelopment Agency to provide $10 million in financing comes after the R.I. Commerce Corp. board of directors voted unanimously last week to approve nearly $21 million in state incentives supporting the proposed revitalization of the long vacant building at 111 Westminster St. The Providence Housing Trust Fund loan comes with a 1% interest rate for a period of 40 years.

“That’s two public agency approvals behind us, which really brings momentum to the project,” said R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who led negotiations with the property owner on behalf of the state to create a financing package to redevelop the “Superman” building for a total of $223.1 million.

The plan was first announced on April 12 by state officials together with David C. Sweetser, principal of building owner High Rock Development LLC, to turn the “Superman” building into 285 apartments, along with 8,000 square feet of offices and 26,000 square feet of retail, event and community space.

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The public financing approved by the Providence Redevelopment Agency and R.I. Commerce now represents about $31 million out of $223.1 million that will be needed for the project. The $31 million is ready to be combined with $157 million of construction debt and developer equity that property owner High Rock Development is expected to put toward the project, along with $5.5 million that’s being sought through the R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp., $24.1 million in proposed federal incentives and $5 million more requested directly from the city of Providence.

During the meeting on Monday, Pryor touted the developer’s promise to hire minority- and women-owned firms to fulfill at least 20% of the subcontracts for the redevelopment project, commitment to compliance with LEED certification for environmental friendliness and agreement to offer at least 20% of the units in the building as affordable or workforce housing for low- and moderate-income earners.

Providence Redevelopment Agency member Manuel Cordero questioned during the meeting whether it would be a judicious use of agency funding.

“Our funding is not infinite,” Cordero said. “We have to prioritize. … We understand the public benefits. The question is … is this the right project because it aligns with the state and city’s priorities?”

Pryor and City Planner Bonnie Nickerson both said they envision the project revitalizing downtown, breathing new life into the area while the city also plans to reimagine and renovate the neighboring Kennedy Plaza, with plans to remove the crowded bus terminal from the area. Pryor said the hot housing market and other factors make this a prime time to go forward with the renovation of the “Superman” building, which has been vacant since 2013, following the departure of its previous longtime tenant Bank of America Corp. 

“We believe that the moment to proceed with this project is now, given the strength of the residential market, given the alignment of stars across public agencies and with the private party,” Pryor said. “We believe this is the moment we can get this project done. … This is a  very tight market. Downtown, in particular, is hot. It’s time to inject more units and have working people in mind, and to make sure there’s affordability that’s significant.”

Nickerson called it a “critical project” and she also applauded High Rock Development for its inclusion of 20% affordable housing, after first considering 10%. Nickerson said the renovation of the property is happening at the same time as other planned redevelopments, including a food hall project at Union Station planned by Marsella Development Corp., making it more worthwhile.

“The spillover impacts of having this building occupied by 500-plus new residents on our small businesses, our restaurants and really sort of being part of the recovery of downtown and beyond is important,” Nickerson said. “The reimagining of Kennedy Plaza is really dependent on there being life in this building. We know all of these things are synergistic. … To bring all these things online at the same time is a really exciting opportunity.”

Pryor agreed that the project would work best in tandem with a Kennedy Plaza renovation.

“The moment is also ripe for a Kennedy Plaza revitalization,” Pryor said. “I think there’s a true opportunity to reinvigorate and you might even say reimagine downtown. And downtown matters. … The central business district of our capital city matters in attracting investment in future projects. I can tell you that the symbolic challenge we face is the ‘Superman’ building is dormant and dark. The opportunity to fill it and light it is an important one, not just for the building itself but for beyond.”

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

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