At Risk - Providence's Tallest Building

DZH22

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You are missing hidden gems like Bristol, Watch Hill-Westerly, Wickford, Jamestown, and East Greenwich.
Been through Bristol and East Greenwich. They're perfectly fine, but if we're talking hidden gems, every 4th or 5th town in New England could be considered a hidden gem. There's an enormous list of places to choose from, that have not committed the type of cardinal sin that would preclude me from ever wanting to go back.

Again, this is a hypothetical scenario based on the destruction of the state's tallest, and among the most architecturally significant, building. It could still be saved, but with the way that state has been mismanaged for literally my entire life, it's a long shot.
 

Blackbird

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As for "the city's last chance"--citation, please? Quite a pessimistic (if not lazy) assertion considering the following over the past 30 years:
I can maybe agree that DZ is being a bit dramatic, but don't undersell how devastating it would be for Providence to see this 100-year-old skyscraper demolished. I might not boycott the state of Rhode Island, but I'd be shocked at Ocean State residents for letting things get that bad. It'd be a huge, visual indication of the city and state's decline.

RE: RI not being "on the way" to anywhere else: apparently I-95, which in the past had a 45-mile traverse through RI, must have been miraculously (scandalously?) realigned overnight such that it now avoids RI entirely and no longer tethers it firmly within the Washington DC-to-Boston megalopolis that is the densest and wealthiest corridor in the nation (with all the attendant economic benefits that showers upon the whole stretch).
Fastest way from NYC to Boston is through Hartford..
 

DBM

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I can maybe agree that DZ is being a bit dramatic, but don't undersell how devastating it would be for Providence to see this 100-year-old skyscraper demolished. I might not boycott the state of Rhode Island, but I'd be shocked at Ocean State residents for letting things get that bad. It'd be a huge, visual indication of the city and state's decline.

Fastest way from NYC to Boston is through Hartford..
On an emotional/sentimental level, I'd be just as distraught as the next guy if 111 Westminster got demolished. It is obviously one of the Top 5 iconic structures in the state (alongside the Jamestown/Newport bridge, Mt. Hope bridge, Narragansett Casino towers, and Westerly's Ocean House, I reckon--honorable mention to Big Blue Bug of course, though it's not exactly *dignified*)

That said: there's now been a 9-year experiment running in letting 111 Westminster sit and deteriorate, 100% vacant. Can anyone produce objective data demonstrating how that has harmed Providence's economic dynamism? Reports commissioned demonstrating that dozens of firms were planning on opening in Providence--but chose not to because of the symbolism of the vacant building?

Or, future projections: hard evidence that Providence's economy will quantifiably suffer if the building is demolished--dozens of prospective companies that were planning on opening/relocating to Providence, but on the caveat that 111 Westminster isn't demolish?

Yes, a temporary hole in the skyline would be a huge visceral blow. But irrefutable evidence of "the city and state's decline," really? Well, I guess if people thought that way about the Filene's hole in DTX...

And, yes, technically Hartford is faster, for the NYC-to-Boston route. But I'd speculate that, whatever convention business Providence/RI had, pre-COVID, was primarily spurred by its location along the I-95/Amtrak corridor. And metro Hartford doesn't have that.
 

Blackbird

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That said: there's now been a 9-year experiment running in letting 111 Westminster sit and deteriorate, 100% vacant. Can anyone produce objective data demonstrating how that has harmed Providence's economic dynamism? Reports commissioned demonstrating that dozens of firms were planning on opening in Providence--but chose not to because of the symbolism of the vacant building?
How many people know that it's 100% vacant? Is it common knowledge among RI residents who aren't architecture nerds?

Or, future projections: hard evidence that Providence's economy will quantifiably suffer if the building is demolished--dozens of prospective companies that were planning on opening/relocating to Providence, but on the caveat that 111 Westminster isn't demolish?
What would constitute hard evidence? Examples of cities that demolished historic skyscrapers or landmarks then immediately had dramatic job/population growth? If so, I don't know of any. I think it's a question of: if Providence can't fill a historic, iconic skyscraper what hope is there of the city being able to fill a new one?

I guess it depends on how Providence sees itself and what it expects its economy to look like in the future. There was a point where it was competitive with some of the nation's largest cities, but nowadays it seems to think of itself as being closer in stature to Lowell than to Raleigh. And maybe that's okay.

Yes, a temporary hole in the skyline would be a huge visceral blow. But irrefutable evidence of "the city and state's decline," really? Well, I guess if people thought that way about the Filene's hole in DTX...
I agree with DZ in that PVD tearing down the Superman Building would be like BOS tearing down the Custom House. Filenes isn't exactly the same scale.
 

DBM

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How many people know that it's 100% vacant? Is it common knowledge among RI residents who aren't architecture nerds?

I think it's a question of: if Providence can't fill a historic, iconic skyscraper what hope is there of the city being able to fill a new one?

I guess it depends on how Providence sees itself and what it expects its economy to look like in the future. There was a point where it was competitive with some of the nation's largest cities, but nowadays it seems to think of itself as being closer in stature to Lowell than to Raleigh. And maybe that's okay.

I agree with DZ in that PVD tearing down the Superman Building would be like BOS tearing down the Custom House. Filenes isn't exactly the same scale.
I think it's been pretty well-known for some time that the building's been vacant since 2012--BofA's departure back was pretty damn well publicized, precisely because of the symbolism of leaving Providence's largest and most iconic office tower vacant, if for no other reason.

Anyway, try this on, as pure speculation: what if the Providence market can't fill the skyscraper not because demand in Providence is so chronically terrible/underperforming... but merely because this sole office tower, among all of them in downtown PVD, is so singularly uncompetitive, because of something inherent in the product?

If downtown Providence office vacancy rates are comparatively healthy for the COVID era--at, say, 85% or so--and keeping pace with if not exceeding peer markets, such as Springfield, Worcester, Hartford--then that tells me the issue may be all about the building itself, and nothing about the overall market, necessarily. After all, it's approaching 100 years old. It was engineered/designed to Jazz Age market pressures and aesthetic sensibilities.

If that's the case, then the building's decade-long vacancy isn't at all a referendum on the Providence office market's health (which in itself is just one slice of Provience's overall economic dynamism, eh?), but merely an indictment of its defective characteristics (market-wise, NOT aesthetically, as a structural icon), or incompetence/stubborness/inertia by the owner.

Finally--do you really think Providence was that competitive with larger cities that recently? I always figured Boston and NYC started significantly pulling away from it starting after the Civil War, as those two got integrated into the massive new Gilded Age global economy of hyperindustrialization and hyperconsumption and Providence slumped to becoming a second-tier regional city. A process greatly accelerated once the Cape Cod Canal was dug in the 1920s or whenever. And if the Great Depression had any leveling effect due to everyone being equally ^$%$ from 1929-1940, surely Providence was fully left behind by no later than 1975 or so?
 

Blackbird

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If downtown Providence office vacancy rates are comparatively healthy for the COVID era--at, say, 85% or so--and keeping pace with if not exceeding peer markets, such as Springfield, Worcester, Hartford--then that tells me the issue may be all about the building itself, and nothing about the overall market, necessarily. After all, it's approaching 100 years old. It was engineered/designed to Jazz Age market pressures and aesthetic sensibilities.

If that's the case, then the building's decade-long vacancy isn't at all a referendum on the Providence office market's health (which in itself is just one slice of Provience's overall economic dynamism, eh?), but merely an indictment of its defective characteristics (market-wise, NOT aesthetically, as a structural icon), or incompetence/stubborness/inertia by the owner.
Fair point, but what other city in the US has had similar difficulty filling a building like that? If it's so hard to sell an older building, you'd expect to see this problem elsewhere, but it's not like the Travelers Tower has been sitting empty for a decade.

Finally--do you really think Providence was that competitive with larger cities that recently? I always figured Boston and NYC started significantly pulling away from it starting after the Civil War, as those two got integrated into the massive new Gilded Age global economy of hyperindustrialization and hyperconsumption and Providence slumped to becoming a second-tier regional city. A process greatly accelerated once the Cape Cod Canal was dug in the 1920s or whenever. And if the Great Depression had any leveling effect due to everyone being equally ^$%$ from 1929-1940, surely Providence was fully left behind by no later than 1975 or so?
I was thinking more along the lines of Nashville, Charlotte, Columbus, etc. than Boston or NYC.

PVD and CLT were similarly sized at least as recently as the 1960s, I believe, though perhaps the former had already ground to a halt by then while the latter was just beginning to ramp up.
 

Rover

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I'm normally opposed to subsidies but I'd make an exception in this case. It's the most significant building in the state. Tear it down and it fits with Rhode Island's reputation as a state that can't get it together. Curt Schilling fiasco, losing the Pawsox, then this. Individually not so bad, but collectively why would you want to invest in a place that keeps screwing up?
 

DBM

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I'm normally opposed to subsidies but I'd make an exception in this case. It's the most significant building in the state. Tear it down and it fits with Rhode Island's reputation as a state that can't get it together. Curt Schilling fiasco, losing the Pawsox, then this. Individually not so bad, but collectively why would you want to invest in a place that keeps screwing up?
Agreed; I'm not sure people actually think like this, but on the surface this is persuasive rhetoric and I feel like it's an all-too-easily adopted mentality.

I think any subsidies should be attached to a fact-finding mission to Boston to learn how its Art Deco masterpieces--75 Fed., 160 Fed., what else?--are continously retrofitted/upgraded to stay competitive. I know its apples-to-oranges in that those two thrive (at least, up until COVID, presumably) as office towers, whereas the speculation is that 111 Westminster only gets revitalized as a residential tower. But I still suspect an inquiry into those two (I can't think of any others in Downtown but maybe there are more?) may still be fruitful....
 
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The even older nearby RI Hospital Trust Bank Tower built from 1917 to 1919 was successfully renovated. The 11 story building which faces the river was purchased by RISD for $45M back in 2005 and converted to educational use. The bottom floors function as the RISD library with the upper floors providing student housing for 500. It was done without a huge state subsidy.

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The library interior:
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Interior of dorm room
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BronsonShore

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The following three statements seem obvious to me:

1. It would be a crying shame if this building is torn down.

2. The state's taxpayers aren't obligated to bail out a developer who apparently bought a building it can't afford to maintain.

3. Boycotting an entire state because the above two points conflict with each other is not a mentally stable position.
 
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The Providence City Council will explore taking the former Industrial National Bank Trust Building by imminent domain. One would think, should this proceed, the purchase price should be very low given the present owners contend that the private market cannot support renovation on its own without massive public funding. That prospect would seem to very much decrease the structure's value as it would impair any sale.

Providence City Council to consider taking ownership of Superman building
September 2, 2021 9:06 am
 
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Stlin

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The Providence City Council will explore taking the former Industrial National Bank Trust Building by imminent domain. One would think, should this proceed, the purchase price should be very low given the present owners contend that the private market cannot support renovation on its own without massive public funding. That prospect would seem to very much decrease the structure's value as it would impair any sale.

Providence City Council to consider taking ownership of Superman building
September 2, 2021 9:06 am
What exactly would the city do with it if it is taken? I don't exactly think the city has any more options for it's use than a private developer, nor would it cost less than the tax credit plan.

That said... If the *state* were to take it and use it as replacement space for the state office buildings (and their associated parking lots) north of the capitol, thereby allowing the redevelopment of that space? I think the superman building may actually be a fine choice for state offices.
 

nicanbot

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Whatever happened to Rodger Williams or URI or whatever uni it was taking up space? I guess those were pre pandemic rumors?
 

Rover

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Probably the cost of the rehab dissuaded them from taking on the project.

I like the idea of the state taking it over in theory but I'm not sure the political will is there after the Schilling/Pawsox debacles.
 

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