PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The New York developer who wants to build what would be Rhode Island’s tallest building released a new rendering of the skyscraper on Wednesday, but he’s still facing strong opposition from some community groups.
Jason Fane, president of The Fane Organization, revealed the new design for his proposed Hope Point Tower at a meeting of the Providence City Plan Commission. He wants zoning rules changed to allow him to build a residential tower up to 600 feet tall on Parcel 42 of the old 195 land, along Dyer Street overlooking a planned park. It would be more than four times higher than the 130-foot maximum currently allowed there.
Fane initially proposed three towers, an idea that quickly attracted loud opposition, leading him to scale back the proposal to one. In an interview, Fane said he expects the single tower would be about 500 feet tall, or 46 stories. (To put that in perspective, the Superman building is around 420 feet tall.)
“The Hope Point Tower would be unique and an icon of Providence,” Fane said. He described the new proposal as “a fabulous design, right on the forefront, and it’s aesthetic, it’s sculptural, it’s sensuous – people will love it.”
Yet it’s clear not everyone will love it. Community groups such as the Fox Point Neighborhood Association have said they do not support building anything so tall in the Jewelry District, and the Providence Preservation Society is strongly opposed.
Brent Runyon, the preservation group’s executive director, said Fane’s vision “is wildly out of scale with the zoning that the citizens, including Providence Preservation Society and our members, helped create with the city.” He said such a tall structure would be a better fit downtown, near others such as the Superman and Textron buildings.
But Fane has supporters, too. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has been a strong advocate for the project, and the Senate recently passed a bill that would help clear the way for it. The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission granted conditional approval for the project last July, but it still needs to go through a design review.
Fane dismissed the idea of reducing the tower’s size to allay the concerns of Runyon and his allies. “The height is what makes it a good project,” he argued. “The objective is to do something iconic that stands out. You don’t do that by slicing it.”
Fane also looked to Europe to make his case.
“In the 1880s, when the Eiffel Tower was proposed, there was a lot of opposition,” he said. “This was something totally new, definitely out of scale with the rest of Paris, which at the time were buildings of seven stories or less. … And now the Eiffel Tower’s beloved in Paris, in France – it’s a symbol of both Paris and France.”
Runyon said part of the concern among the tower’s opponents is that it would not be at the same scale as its surrounding neighborhood. He also noted the project would include a large parking garage, and would cast large shadows around it.
“What we would get in this area, on this spot, is a building that could be 46 stories tall, but really nowhere around it where anything’s going to be filling in,” he said. “This is going to be a place on its own, an oasis islanded away from the city, not something that’s going to fill in and make it feel like a skyline. It’s really just going to be out on its own. It really doesn’t make sense from a planning perspective.”
Fane said he now estimates the project would cost between $250 million and $300 million, higher than his previous projection, and said he would need to tap existing tax breaks to make the math work. He said he hopes to receive government approvals by the end of this year in order to start construction by late 2019.
Asked whether he could say how much the townhouses and apartments in Hope Point Tower would cost to rent, Fane said, “Absolutely not.” He noted they would all be market-rate units. “I anticipate that all of the apartments will be affordable by somebody,” he said.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is taking a wait-and-see approach to Fane’s project for now. “While the administration is excited for future development of the land and surrounding parcels, the mayor is awaiting a refined design concept for the building to ensure that it fits in within the context of the surrounding urban landscape and neighborhood,” spokeswoman Emily Crowell told Eyewitness News.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook