PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The 26-year-old lawyer who helped House Speaker Gordon Fox survive a brutal re-election campaign last fall is now lobbying to secure millions of dollars in tax credits to turn Providence's tallest building into apartments, WPRI.com has learned.
In a report filed Monday with the secretary of state's office, Nicholas Hemond identified himself as a $6,750-per-month lobbyist for High Rock Development, which owns the 428-foot "Superman building" at 111 Westminster St. Hemond is also earning $4,375 a month to represent Cornish Associates, which has been hired as developer for the project. The fees are being paid to the Capitol Communications Group, a lobbying firm founded by downtown lawyer Zach Darrow.
Legislation to earmark tax credits for the building has not yet been introduced, but Hemond and Darrow have been taking the temperature of lawmakers and city officials for several months as they attempt to craft a deal before Bank of America vacates the property this spring. In his legislative wish list to the General Assembly earlier this year, Mayor Angel Taveras also expressed support for allocating tax credits to the building.
Hemond has quickly established himself as a political heavyweight since graduating from Providence College in 2009. He served as communications director for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio in 2010 and later co-founded the Hamilton Group, a consulting firm that helped Fox win a difficult re-election campaign against independent Mark Binder last year.
Hemond declined to comment. A spokesman for the speaker didn't respond to a request for comment about his former campaign manager lobbying for the Superman building.
Convincing lawmakers to award tax credits for the Superman building could prove to be a difficult endeavor. Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed have expressed support for Gov. Lincoln Chafee's plan to restore the state's historic preservation tax credit program, but the governor's office has projected that approximately $25 million will be available if the proposal passes the General Assembly.
Even if every available tax credit went to transforming the Superman building, lawmakers would likely have to approve additional legislation to for the project to be viable. Earlier this month, Cornish CEO Arnold "Buff" Chace told WPRI.com that the amount needed to convert the space to apartments could be more than $40 million.
High Rock, a Wellesley, Mass.-based real-estate investment firm founded by David Sweetser, purchased the 350,000-square-foot Art Deco skyscraper for $33.2 million in 2008. The tax credit discussion comes a year after lawmakers ignored a proposal by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to move state employees into the building.
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