PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — The question of whether the controversial 550-foot tall Fane Tower will be constructed in Providence’s Jewelry District should be settled by this spring, according to Marc Crisafulli, the newly appointed chair of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.
Crisafulli, a retired top executive at Bally’s, was appointed chair of the commission by Gov. Dan McKee last week following the resignation of Robert Davis, the previous chair.
During a taping of WPRI.com’s Pulse of Providence, Crisafulli said it is “unlikely” the Fane Organization will meet the closing date on the sale of the land, currently set for March 28.
“There are certain conditions that have to be met in order for them to be able to close on the land,” Crisafulli said. “They have to have all of the financing done and a construction contract in place.”
He did not commit one way or another to giving Fane yet another extension, as the New York developer seeks a last-minute change to the design of the skyscraper.
“We have to follow the process and see where it takes us,” Crisafulli said. But, he added, “I am uncomfortable having this land continue to be tied up. So we need to make a decision one way or another and go forward.”
Fane’s new design must be approved by the 195 Commission, which held a hearing on the new design last week but did not take a vote. The panel’s design consultant said the new, sleeker design could cause high winds in the adjacent public park by the city’s new pedestrian bridge.
Fane spokesperson Jim Malachowski said Fane won’t sign a construction contact without an approved design. The previous design, approved in 2019, is no longer feasible because of increased costs, Fane has said.
The construction of the building is expected to cost at least $300 million.
“We’ll know by this spring what’s going to happen with this project,” Crisafulli said.
The most recent delay on the sale of the parcel was caused by litigation, as neighbors unsuccessfully challenged the skyscraper’s height, which will tower over neighboring buildings.
After winning the case in the R.I. Supreme Court, Fane was given another nine months to close on the sale. (The purchase-and-sale agreement was originally signed in 2018.)
Skeptics have doubted whether the tower ever will get the financing to be built, but Fane has said he remains committed to the project, and points to jobs and other economic activity that will be generated by its construction.
“Fane, today, has the right to build the tower,” Crisafulli said. “It’s an approved project — they have everything they need, they could close on the land and start construction.”
The future of the 195 land
There is still plenty of land yet to be developed in the 26-acre district Crisafulli now oversees. The panel he leads was created in 2011 to manage the process after the state moved I-195.
Five developments have been constructed thus far under the 195 Commission: the Wexford building, Aloft Hotel, Chestnut Commons apartments, the mixed-use Trader Joe’s complex, and the Emblem 125 apartment building.
In addition to the Fane Tower, there are two other residential buildings in the pipeline to be built on the land, plus a BankRI headquarters and a science-oriented complex anchored by the new R.I. Department of Health laboratory.
Crisafulli says he wants to refocus the district on commercial development, including the life sciences, with the state health lab acting as a potential catalyst to spur more interest.
State leaders originally envisioned medical and education facilities — “meds and eds” — when Rhode Island went into debt to purchase the land for redevelopment. More recently, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi has said he wants to see a new focus on bioscience development by state leaders.
“I’d like to try and emphasize commercial development more,” Crisafulli said. “With a particular focus on life sciences. That’s something Governor McKee has talked about as a priority in his State of the State.”
Crisafulli also said he hopes to get better sale prices on the land moving forward. As Target 12 reported back in 2021, the commission has only recouped $1.2 million from land sales thus far.
State budget-crunchers had estimated back in 2013 that the land sales would total $43 million by last year, covering the taxpayer-backed bonds that were used to buy the land.
Instead, taxpayers have been making annual payments on the debt.
“We really haven’t received a lot of money for the land that we’ve sold,” Crisafulli said. “We need to get higher prices.”
The land sales total is still at $1.2 million today, according to documents reviewed by Target 12, but there are several higher-dollar sales pending.
The Fane Tower sale will be $3 million if it goes through, and two other residential proposals are slated to bring in $800,000 and $2 million, respectively. The land for the BankRI headquarters, a mixed-use property with housing and retail, is slated to sell for $3 million.
The pending price of the parcel of land for the new state health lab is just $1, a nominal amount that was offered to incentivize the lab space to be built in the 195 district.
“It’s such a critically important project for everything we’re trying to accomplish that it’s worth it,” Crisafulli said.
Most of the development thus far has been on either side of the pedestrian bridge that spans the Providence River. But the western section of the 195 district along East Franklin Street, abutting I-95, has yet to see much interest from developers.
“We haven’t made any progress there yet, and it’s something we want to address,” Crisafulli said.
The commission, which meets monthly, has roughly nine years left before it is automatically dissolved under state law.