PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – New York developer Jason Fane is one step closer to building a downtown skyscraper that he hopes will become as symbolic to Providence as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.
The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission on Wednesday night approved the final design of his controversial Hope Point Tower project, commonly known as the Fane Tower, marking a major step forward for the proposed 46-story residential high-rise.
Ahead of the vote, dozens of union members rallied in support of the project outside the Wexford Innovation Center on Dyer Street across from where the tower would be built, and dozens of opponents showed up to speak in opposition at the hearing.
The commission ultimately voted 5-1 in favor of the final design, although Chairman Robert Davis emphasized the vote was only for the design and did not reflect how they felt about the overall project.
“We are not here to make a decision about whether this is a good or bad project, or whether it’s an economically feasible one,” Davis said.
Commissioner Sandra Smith voted against the project. Several opponents shouted “Shame on you!” after the vote happened.
During an exclusive interview with Target 12 ahead of the meeting, Fane said he believes the project will cost $300 million to complete. He was careful to note that estimate could change, depending on market conditions and the regulatory environment.
His goal is to have the tower completed within 2 ½ years, but when asked whether he was certain the project would actually happen – a concern raised among his sharpest critics – he said that solely depends on the regulatory process moving forward.
“Until they approve it, I’m not building it,” he said. “There has been delay after delay.”
The plan is for the building to hold dozens of luxury apartments, and possibly also condominiums. Fane declined to say what the rents might look like but said there would not be any affordable units.
“That’s not what this project is about,” Fane said. “There are a lot of people in Providence who want all kinds of things. This project is about providing a premiere building in a top location in Providence with an amenity and service package people can’t get elsewhere.”
Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune, D-Ward 3, who represents the East Side, spoke in opposition to the project, saying affordable housing is what’s needed in the city.
“We do have a housing crisis. Yes, we need more housing, but we need more affordable housing,” LaFortune said.
Wednesday’s meeting largely focused on three zoning waivers and approval of Fane’s final design, which the two groups have been working on for months.
The developer altered the six-story podium, which will contain parking and some retail, at the base of the skyscraper to create a more “friendly environment for pedestrians.” The tower itself looks similar to what was originally proposed more than a year ago, with some modifications to its facade and size.
The project has been a point of contention since it first came onto the scene. Fane said he originally came to Providence about four years ago with the understanding that the approval process would be fast and easy. Fane now describes the process as “endless.”
Asked whether he thought the mayor, City Council or I-195 Commission had been the most difficult to work with during the process, he told Target 12: “I’d rather not answer that question. But they can all take credit.”
Letters obtained by Target 12 in July show Fane also didn’t deliver key documents and monetary commitments to the commission in a timely fashion.
The commission has repeatedly extended a deadline for the developer to submit a tax-stabilization agreement with the city, another key milestone in the development process.
Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association, has fought against the project for years. She raised concerns about how quickly the final design was approved after it was released to the public earlier in the day Wednesday.
“What we’re seeing is a complete and utter disrespect for Providence,” she said.
Steele is among those most concerned about the massive height of the tower in an area of the city that otherwise doesn’t have any high-rise buildings.
“It is going to put everything east of the tower in shadow,” she said.
Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council, meanwhile lauded the project and what it represents to the city and his union members.
“The Hope Point Tower would further stimulate both the city and state’s economic surge in workforce job opportunities and infrastructure development through millions of dollars in critical tax revenue,” he said in a statement. “We must remain a forward-thinking city and state that does not stand in the way of progress and economic development.”
David DeQuattro, managing principal at Providence-based RGB Architects, also spoke in favor of the project, saying all cities must grow.
“It’s not a historic building, it’s a new building,” he said.
The project has also spurred debate among politicians at the city and state level.
Democratic Providence Mayor Jorge Eloza has opposed the project. But the Providence City Council voted to override his veto of a zoning variance to allow the 600-foot height of the building.
The I-195 Commission was required to waive the height variance again, which it did Wednesday after its attorneys advised against opposing the City Council’s decision.
Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has championed the project at the state level, getting a bill passed to strip Providence of its zoning powers for projects on the former I-195 land.
He advocated for a $25 million subsidy to be included in the current state budget for the project, which was supported by both House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo, both fellow Democrats.
Fane said he will now spend the next year putting together architectural and interior designs and line up contractors to do the construction, which could take another year and a half.
“It’s possible it will be faster, but you have to allow for delays,” he said. “Most projects have surprises.”
Fane will still have to prove he can put together the financing to pay for the development. But he’s confident a lender or a group of investors will help if needed when he gets to that point. When asked what he thinks about the vocal opponents to his project, he said he likes how much attention it gets.
“In Providence, everybody knows about this project. I did a taller project in Toronto and it’s the fifth tallest building on the block. Most people haven’t heard of it,” he said. “That’s a big advantage when everybody knows.”
And yet, much of the attention the tower has garnered has been from critics who say the tower – which would redefine the Providence skyline – is ugly and unflattering to the other architecture in the city. Asked what he would say to those who spoke in opposition at the meeting, Fane replied, “Not much.”
“I meet an awful lot of people who tell me how beautiful it is to them,” he said. “My advice is, if you don’t like the way it looks, look in a different direction.”