Mayor Elorza seeks design approval, other commitments for 46-story Hope Point Tower

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A day before the Providence City Council is scheduled to hold its final vote on a zoning change for the proposed Hope Point Tower, Mayor Jorge Elorza has released a set of demands to the developer in exchange for his support of the project.

In a statement released Monday, Elorza said he believes New York-based developer Jason Fane should commit to an expedited construction timeline and make a contribution that can be used to “support things such as repairs and maintenance of the pedestrian bridge or other important city priorities.”

Elorza also wants the city to have final approval over the design of the 46-story skyscraper, which would be Rhode Island’s tallest building. The project would be built on the former I-195 land.

“I will seek out an agreement with the developer that addresses each of these above concerns,” Elorza said. “But before I will commit to signing the zoning change, I need to be satisfied that these concerns will be addressed.”

The City Council is expected to approve a zoning change to raise the maximum building height of Parcel 42 along Dyer Street from 130 feet to 600 feet at a special meeting Tuesday night. Elorza would then have 10 days to sign, veto or allow passage of the change without his signature.

Fane is seeking to invest approximately $300 million in the project, which would include luxury apartments and condos. The project would be eligible for a 20-year tax stabilization agreement from the city based on its size and location under an ordinance approved by the council in 2015.

The proposal is supported by the building trades, but opponents have said the city shouldn’t engage in “spot zoning,” a practice of approving one-off zoning changes for specific projects. The council voted 8-5 to support the zoning change last week, with two members abstaining.

Elorza’s proposal stops well short of a request from some councilors to force developer Jason Fane to commit to making at least 15% of the units in the tower available to low-and-middle income residents, but it would address a concern critics of the project have raised about whether the project will actually move forward.

It’s unclear if Elorza’s request would require further City Council approval or bypass the city’s legislative body.

Fane has already entered into an agreement to buy Parcel 42 from the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, but the deal is contingent on winning the zoning change from the city. The agreement requires Fane to complete construction within 36 months of the date the project breaks ground. It’s unclear whether Elorza is asking for the project to be completed quicker.

Dante Bellini, a spokesperson for Fane, said the next step in the process would be design review, which is traditionally handled by the mayoral-appointed. Downtown Design Review Committee. But he said the developer is open to having further discussions with Elorza.

“We will be more than happy to discuss any concerns that the mayor has at the appropriate time,” Bellini said. “But today, 24 hours before the City Council vote, is not that time.”

Elorza’s list of demands was released hours before dozens of opponents – including several former, current and future members of the City Council – held a press conference in City Hall to urge the mayor to veto the project. The event was organized by the Providence Preservation Society.

Councilman Bryan Principe (Ward 13) said the zoning change “flies in the face of every other developer” that has followed the city’s existing zoning rules. Councilwoman-elect Helen Anthony (Ward 2) agreed, calling on city to protect Providence by adhering to the current zoning ordinance.

“I’ve seen what happens to a city when you let developers come in and request changes of the zoning on a case-by-case basis and it can destroy a city,” Anthony, a former member of the Zoning Board, said.

Cliff Wood, a former councilman who now serves as executive director of the Providence Foundation, said the tower is cutting into some of the public park space that was promised on the former highway land. (The foundation oversees the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy.)

“The whole idea of developing near this park was that there would be development there with first-floor activities – retail, restaurant, eyes on the park,” Wood said. “A lot of what makes our spaces feel safe and actually be safe is that street-level activity.”

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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