PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With the latest state budget all but finalized and no new money provided to redevelop the Superman building in Providence, questions are swirling about whether the state’s tallest building could once again become a white elephant.
The 26-story skyscraper at 111 Westminster St. has sat empty and in limbo ever since Bank of America moved out in 2013. But that all changed last April when state leaders and developer High Rock Development LLC unveiled a new $220 million public-private redevelopment plan.
More than a year later, however, there has been little visible progress. High Rock officials have said the project’s cost is growing due to inflation and rising interest rates, scrambling the math from last year’s agreement.
And while the developer’s team was meeting regularly state officials earlier this year, High Rock never officially asked for any additional state money, none was allocated in the House version of the state budget passed last week. And nobody has much to say about what comes next.
“Very simply put, there was not an ask,” House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said Monday during a live interview on 12 News at 4.
“I had heard through many people in social settings and other events they were going to be looking for state money, but they have not come forward for any money at this time,” Shekarchi added. “And neither did the governor, for that matter.”
High Rock spokesperson Bill Fischer declined to comment Tuesday, but he confirmed in March costs had risen and signaled at the time that the developer might not be able to cover the gap with private money alone.
“What we are evaluating now is how much of the increased gap we can bear internally,” Fischer said then. (The developer has not disclosed how much costs have increased.)
A spokesperson for Gov. Dan McKee did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the situation.
The original deal touted by state and local officials last year included $26.2 million from the state, $15 million from Providence and up to $24.1 million from federal tax credits. The rest would be financed by High Rock through a mix of cash, debt and equity. (The developer would also receive a $29 million tax break from the city over 30 years.)
“I’d like to see construction start on the building,” said Providence Mayor Brett Smiley, who supports the project. “That has the potential to provide homes to upward of 400 residents in Providence.”
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But the mayor’s office didn’t have much in the way of new information about where the project currently stands or where it’s heading. High Rock has not publicly sought any new money from the city, although spokesperson Patricia Socarras said conversations continue between city officials and the developer. She did not respond to a question about when they last met.
“Given the increase in interest rates and production costs, the developer has noted that the cost of the project has increased,” Socarras said.
But without the approval of any more public assistance, High Rock will be forced either to find more money from existing buckets of unallocated funds or cover the financing gap on its own.
Asked whether he thought the project was still viable without more public money, Shekarchi offered some optimism, saying “so far it seems that way.” But he warned the Superman developer wouldn’t be getting any new state money without going through a formal process, noting that major projects are having money problems across the state.
“Everybody is looking for more money,” he said. “The cost of labor has gone up, interest rates have gone up as have cost overruns for materials. So, every project is always looking for more money, so we will take each one and give them full and fair consideration. But it will be in a very open and transparent process.”
Kim Kalunian and Alexandra Leslie contributed to this report.