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I-195 Commission frustrated with Fane tower developer, letters show

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The regulators in charge of deciding whether to approve the so-called Hope Point Tower are getting frustrated with the developer.

A series of letters requested by Target 12 show the developer, Jason Fane, has repeatedly failed to meet deadlines and respond to a series of requests made by the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.

“We are writing to express our disappointment at your organization’s failure to perform its obligations under our agreement,” wrote Robert Davis, I-195 Commission chairman, in a letter to Fane dated Tuesday.

The tension between the commission and Fane has been growing for months, but started almost immediately after a purchase and sales agreement for the land was signed on Jan. 17, according to the letters.

Within a month, the commission sent documents to Fane including a request of a $3.7 million “guaranty,” representing an amount the state would keep in the event the developer walks away from the project.

The commission also sent a letter offering Fane first shot at buying an adjacent piece of land, known as a “right of first offer,” which it could offer to other interested parties if he declined.   

Responses were due by Feb. 28 in accordance with the original agreement, according to the letters, but to date the commission has received nothing from the developer about the right of first offer. And Fane responded to the guaranty request on Friday asking for the amount to be reduced to $3 million, according to the commission.

Davis wrote in his response letter that the change would be detrimental to the public.

“We have no interest in renegotiating the agreement,” he wrote.  

The commission declined to comment on whether the letters signaled the deal was at risk of falling through. Fane spokesperson Dante Bellini characterized the relationship as “collaborative,” and said the company “has enjoyed a good and productive relationship with the 195 Commission.”

“This is a large and complex deal and as such requires a great amount of due diligence by all parties,” he explained. “There have been, as you know, very formidable challenges.”

The challenges facing Fane’s development have been well-documented. The proposed 46-story development, which would become the tallest building in the state, has faced opposition from members of the public and some local elected officials.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza last year vetoed a zoning ordinance permitting the height of the building, which the Providence City Council voted to override. In a separate non-binding decision, a city commission rejected the development’s proposed design.

The challenges Fane has encountered may only reinforce the narrative that Rhode Island is a bad place for business, a sentiment which was spotlighted this month when CNBC ranked the state the worst in the nation to do business.

But Fane’s project has garnered the support of key state leaders, starting with Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who championed legislation and public subsidies for the development. In the current budget signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, the state authorized up to $25 million in tax breaks for Fane.

The letters, however, show a developer who has made it challenging for regulators. In response to a separate request for funds related to the third-party litigation and design review in May, Fane’s attorney, Scott Spear of Blish & Cavanagh, asked the state to provide “good faith estimates of its anticipated expenditures over the next 30 to 60 days.”

The commission’s attorney, Charles Rogers of Locke Lord, said in response, “your client does not have the authority to approve the commission’s expenses or to make decisions about what services are to be rendered to the commission as long as those expenses are incurred in the design review process or in the defense of the appeal.” Failing to comply, he warned at the time, would result in a default of the original agreement.

Fast forward two months and the lawyers on July 18 again butted heads over design review. Rogers wrote a letter saying Fane’s overdue designs submitted to the commission showed “improvements that extend beyond the boundaries of the land.”

The deadline for the designs, originally due July 10, was extended by the commission for a Wednesday meeting, but the plans never arrived, according to Davis’ letter.

“While we hoped that the meeting would be productive, because of your organization’s conduct, our expectations are considerably diminished,” Davis wrote Tuesday.

Bellini, who said Fane’s team is hoping to get the project approved as soon as possible, said Fane’s commitment to the development is “true and solid.” On Wednesday, he told Target 12 the developer had a good meeting with the commission and that “things are moving forward.”

“Jason is committed most assuredly to making this very big, very complex project happen. There’s no wavering on his part,” he said.   

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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