PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The controversial Fane Tower is in the spotlight once again, as the clock ticks towards a closing date and the proposed skyscraper’s developer wants to change the design to save money.
The developer behind the proposed 550-foot residential tower in the Jewelry District went before the I-195 Commission Wednesday night to present a proposal for a new design that eliminates balconies and decreases the height of the parking structure, adding more floors of apartments. It would be Rhode Island’s tallest building if constructed.
But the commission’s design consultant Utile is recommending that the commission reject the new design, citing in part concerns about down-wind drafts in the park by the pedestrian bridge due to the sleeker design.
“Given the elimination of the majority balconies (which provided some ‘roughness’ to disrupt wind patterns) and the reduction of the setback of the tower from the podium to 5 feet along Dyer Street, there is an increased likelihood that the tower will accelerate wind speed with significant negative impacts on the park, especially during the winter months,” Utile wrote in a memo outlining the recommendation.
The consultant made a series of recommended design changes.
The old design, which had already been approved by the commission back in 2019, is now too expensive to build, according to Jason Fane, the developer.
Jim Malachowski, the spokesperson for the Fane Organization, said Wednesday he hopes they can sit down with Utile and come to an agreement about the design.
“The reality is the previous design of the tower just cannot be built in this economy,” Malachowski said. “Every one of the consultants’ recommendations brings with it a cost.”
The Fane Organization is still seeking to build the tower for $300 million. Malachowski says inflation, supply issues and higher interest rates have contributed to a higher estimated cost for the old design.
The commission did not vote on the design at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The design debate comes as the $3 million dollar sale of the old highway land that Fane wants is still pending, with a looming closing date of March 28, according to spokesperson Cara Cromwell.
The closing date has been pushed back repeatedly since the original 2019 purchase-and-sale agreement between Fane and the 195 Commission. The most recent delay was because of a court case challenging the tower’s height; Fane prevailed in the R.I. Supreme Court, and was given nine additional months to close on the sale.
The former chairman of the 195 Commission, Bob Davis, had said the commission would not close on the sale unless Fane had financing in place and a construction contract. Davis stepped down as chair last month.
Malachowski said Fane is talking to potential contractors but won’t sign a construction contract until the design is approved. He did not say whether Fane has the financing in place to meet the closing date.
Asked if Fane could abandon the project, Malachowski said the developer is still “absolutely committed.”
“He still believes in Providence, he believes in Rhode Island,” Malachowski said, noting that Fane paid the commission $50,000 to review the new plans. He noted that the development is expected to bring new jobs and tax revenue to the city, though the tower will get a significant tax break.
A vote on the design could take place as soon as the commission’s February meeting.
It is not clear whether the commission would considering delaying the closing date again, or whether the parcel of state-owned land on Dyer Street would be put back on the market.
The vice-chair of the commission, Marc Crisafulli, led Wednesday’s meeting in light of Davis’ resignation. He did not immediately weigh in on Utile’s recommendation to reject the new design.
“We will continue the design review process for the proposed Fane Tower,” Crisafulli said in a statement. “The developer has submitted a revised design with significant changes from the approved project and we will hear their presentation, review input from experts and listen to public comment.”
The Jewelry District Association, which has fought vociferously against the skyscraper, sent out an email to members urging them to testify at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Fane is back, with more apartments, fewer parking spaces and more outright gall!” the email declared. “Back with a bad concept, a bad design, in a bad location. Help us put a stop to the Fane tower for good!”