New renderings of proposed Hope Point Tower by The Fane Organization

In Zoning by Jef Nickerson30 Comments

Rendering of proposed Hope Point Tower viewed looking north on Dyer Street. By IBI Group of Toronto

At last night’s City Plan Commission meeting, the Fane Organization released new renderings of their proposed tower on 195 Parcel 42.

The City Plan Commission was reviewing rezoning Parcel 42 from a maximum 130′ height zone to a proposed 600′ height zone. According to the meeting posting, the Commission was also considering: changing the zoning ordinance so that the Downtown Design Review Committee may waive regulations relating to building height, massing, and required transition lines. Last night’s meeting was informational only, the Commission took no action on the proposal. The Commission will continue their review at their May 15th meeting, where they may decide to vote on the matter.

The new design for the building is similar in function, but a strong departure in form from previously released designs. The proposed building would be a 46-story (up to 600′) tall tower sitting on top of a 6-story podium with curved glass edges. The ground level of the podium would feature retail and lobby space, the remaining 5 levels of the podium would consist of structured parking. The other 40-floors of the building is proposed to be residential.

Rendering of proposed Hope Point Tower viewed looking across the Providence River from Fox Point. By IBI Group of Toronto

Providence Business News reports that developer Jason Fane said of the building, “It’s white-wavy. It’s sensuous. When people see it, they remember it, or it’s, wow, that’s nice, or I love it. I think it will become the symbol of Providence.” Fane also reportedly said this building would be the Eiffel Tower of Providence.

And there was this, reported by The Providence Journal:

Supporters included Al Sapienza, who played the fictional mayor of Providence, Frank Panzarella, on the former Showtime TV series “Brotherhood.” Sapienza lives in a Fane building in Toronto, and extolled its merits.

OK, so the fictional Mayor, who lives in Canada, likes it…

WPRI reports on community opposition to the project including from the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, the Jewelry District Association, and the Providence Preservation Society:

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.

WPRI also reports the project’s cost estimates are already on the rise, with a ballpark cost estimate of between $250- and $300-million dollars. Mr. Fane also said he could not comment on the potential cost of rents and condos, telling WPRI’s Ted Nesi:

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.

I call bullshit, pricing the units is a basic part of planning for any development. He either knows the anticipated prices, or if he does not have the prices yet, he’s not qualified to be developing such a project. He just doesn’t want to outline the potential rents and sales prices because detractors are already crying foul about public subsidies for luxury housing. Also, “affordable to somebody…” what a jerk thing to say.

There are of course supporters, chief among them the building trades. However, as commenter Joel points out on another post:

The design almost doesn’t matter. If someone wants to take this kind of risk, fine, but let them do it on their own dime. What’s most annoying to me is that people talk about the jobs this will create like the type of job is irrelevant. We currently have a skilled labor SHORTAGE, which drives cost of construction up. So basically the city/state would be changing the existing zoning and using our taxpayer dollars to make construction in the rest of the city/region even more expensive than it already is. And to build luxury housing when 42% of owners and 57% of renters in the city are already cost burdened as it is.

And I agree, the design is almost secondary. Personally, I like this one a little better than the previous one that had brick panels glued all over it. I’m all about seeing something with glass and modern lines built in Providence. Just not at this site and not something that hasn’t been fully financially vetted.

It should be pointed out every time we discuss this project, the developer does not own this parcel, yet. Sometimes we talk about things we wish were built somewhere else, but the developer only owns the land the developer owns and cannot go building their project elsewhere on someone elses property. In this case, the developer still needs to buy this land from the State. And the State has a lot of 195 land available. The 195 parcels nearest Route 95 are in a 200′ zone. They are also on a hill and not inundated by the water table, meaning the parking podium could go underground.

Or the developer could buy land from someone other than the State. The Old Public Safety Building Memorial Parking Lot™ is in a 300′ zone as is the lot across from the Superman Building where OneTen Westminster was proposed over a decade ago.

None of these alternate locations allow for 600′ buildings, they do allow for some height over their zoning based on bonus incentives. But the fact of the matter is a 600′ residential building is not really economically feasible in Providence anyway.

The City clarified the zoning in the 195 Land in a deliberate public process in 2012 (Full Disclosure: I was a member of the commission that studied the zoning and recommended it to the Mayor). To throw all that work away for a project that has not proven to be economically feasible, is already seeing costs rise, and demands public subsidies is a mistake. If the developer is serious about Providence and this project, he should open his books, pursue a suitable location, and engage in an honest dialogue with the community.

About the Author

Jef Nickerson

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Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.

Comments

  1. This proposal looks like Florida architecture or from another tropical location. I don’t have a problem the height, but in this neighborhood it’s out of place. That may be in part due to the massing and shape. The architect weirdly succeeded in making a tall tower look squat. I’m not a fan of zoning because often it’s used as a tool to exclude. But in this case, zoning a single lot, is spot zoning. If this area was designated as a high-rise neighborhood part of a larger strategy this might work, but I’m not even sure of that because the design ignores its surroundings. The same is true of the Toronto buildings, which look as alien as a high-rise district in Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

  2. To call a generic Miami condo project the Eiffel Tower of Providence is a slap in the face of the architectural integrity of the city.
    All of Jef’s points are right.
    I had hopes that something would come of this, but I’m just spent now. This is simply a bad proposal in every way, and the fact that Fane has failed to show the slightest bit of respect at every turn is telling of the mindset he’s coming into this with. This is clearly a developer that just sees a mid-sized city with room for a large project, and a location available that would make this project the singular focus of the skyline from the most photographed vantage point. It has no tie to the character of the city whatsoever, which therefore doesn’t justify breaking the common rule of not having your tallest structures right on the waterfront, and it’d be a disaster from the street level. This mostly works for the developer, not for the city, and basically amounts to little more than real estate colonialism.

  3. Author

    Absolute Condos, Mississauga, Ontario – Google Street View

    People on social media last might were suggesting that this tower looks a lot like the Absolute Condo Towers in Mississauga, Ontario. Most cities don’t aspire to be Mississauga.

    It should also be noted, that there are two pieces to parcel 42 and the Fane Organization could conceivably build a second tower.

  4. Hear! Hear! You want to buy land from a public agency, do a land swap with a (future) City park, and ask for millions in public assistance, you’re gonna have to open the books.

  5. Since Fane is a New York based developer, why wouldn’t he build something like this in New York? Unless in Midtown, New York zoning might be more of a challenge and land prices are higher, however, construction costs are only slightly higher than Providence and Boston, but rents and sale prices per square foot are through the roof!

    Providence Journal – Gallery: Tallest Providence Buildings:

    http://www.providencejournal.com/photogallery/PJ/20180426/NEWS/426009998/PH/1?start=2?rssfeed=true

  6. As if financial feasibility was ever a consideration in Providence…Why don’t we just do away with TSAs? Local developers are just freaking out that Fane’s project will suck up all the subsidies. Enable the New Providence to emerge!! This is the perfect site as it is located at walking distance from downtown, transit, colleges, cultural amenities and centers of government. Providence needs to seriously grow up and put aside its fatal attraction with the past.

  7. I can dig the Eiffel Tower comparison. This building is a piece of art. Standing alone actually enhances its appeal. Especially since it’s not rectilinear.

  8. This city is nicknamed the “creative capital” with art instillation all over the city including the river, this is just another instillation. I also love the providence river being used as motivation behind the design.

  9. The darn rendering is poorly done. It makes the height look like it is 990 feet when looking at the “Superman” building, when in fact it will be about 120 feet taller.

    It does not help the cause at all.

  10. The street people in the rendering look nice, but the building is ugly, out of place, and has nothing to do with Providence and the image of Providence as a place with history, culture, and beauty that we should try to sell. I also agree with those who saw reason for skepticism about the financing and subsidies.
    But that said, I am a fan of density, its the only way to increase the human population without excessive environmental damage and impact, the only way to make transit work and have truly walkable communities with the quality of life that that suggests.

  11. I like the design, but personally i think the city should buy the parcels along the waterfront and create a real park there with courts (basketball, tennis, boccie, etc) and a playground, so it isn’t just a glorified walking path. It would be a true waste to have opened up the river to the public and then turn around and sell the land to someone who will block the river with a building.

    I know the developer is looking for the state land because he thinks he can get a deal but a great spot for this tower would be the triangular lot between Ship, Clifford, and Richmond Streets. Its not right on the river blocking everything but is still downtown, next to the wexford development and would still be iconic.

    Mini rant for my first post: I wish the State and Providence would get out of their own way sometimes by having a coherent plan for the cities development instead of just a mishmash of ideas that leave one unconnected street with a separated bike path, a tiny useless park along part of the river, a 5 lane wide road along the rest of it and a bus system that dumps people scattered around a plaza that holds no value as a city center because of it. Sorry, rant over.

  12. “”Also, “affordable to somebody…” what a jerk thing to say.” – This is actually a totally honest comment by the developer. He wouldn’t rent the apartment at a rate no one could afford to pay.

    Also, the Providence Preservation Society’s comment about how this would be a better fit downtown is ridiculous. The only reason this part of the city isn’t already part of downtown is because it was once the site of a divided highway, and there is nothing historic (or anything noteworthy ) in this area that this building would be “widely out of scale” from.

  13. I don’t understand people in Providence. You have someone who is willing to invest over 300 million into this city and everyone wants to complain. Nobody has answers to what can replace the tower. How many damn parks will we have in providence. Do people forget providence is a capital of Rhode Island. I’m tired of this small minded mentality where you have Boston who always taking chances and working to make there city to what it is. If that tower is built think about how many more investment would come to the capital building the downtown and bringing density. All you people want complain and complain everytime people want to help. This is the reason why providence is the way it is and have took so long to get where it needs to be. Look at all the great opportunities providence missed. Patriots stadium would have been right downtown and the city would have had great exposure but nope people and the governor at the time looked down at it and now look. Everybody knows where foxboro at in this country. Get it together people and look at the future we live in creative capital where we need to have these beautiful designs of building standing y’all letting people know we are one of the best cities in New England.

  14. Couldn’t agree more with Young Mind. The old guard needs to step aside. Small minded, anti-change, anti-progress elites trying to tell us what is a quality design and what is not. You’ve had decades to bring in developers and the only real density increases downtown have happened in the last four years due to office to residential conversions. Step aside and let us embrace some modern designs.

  15. Fully agree with Young Mindpvd and KCB…
    Now WRITE the City Plan Commission, the Downtown Design Commission, the City Council, and the Mayor!

    I do.

  16. We’re a small city, 24 square miles. We have to grow vertically to be a competitive city. We have the east side to show our colonial history. For once let’s grow up and build.

  17. Agree. Boston is 40 sq miles – also small – does just that.

    Now WRITE the City Plan Commission, the Downtown Design Commission, the City Council, and the Mayor!

  18. As one of the people that has griped about this design, I suppose I should offer the reasoning as to why, since the fact that it is a “modern” design is not at the heart of my disapproval.

    This site, were it to be developed with a tower of this size, would stand out as a singular statement on the city of Providence. If you are going to abandon commonly accepted standard of not building your tallest structures at the waterfront, which requires circumventing established zoning, for the sake of one structure, it should be something that truly embodies the spirit of the city. Something easily identifiable, that continues the narrative of the built environment, and displays the character of the place it represents.

    This rendering accomplishes none of those things. It looks like a vase. The tower is widest at top, has mostly horizontal lines, and generally looks short for its size, which just further diminishes any verticality of neighboring highrises. Aside from being a predominantly white structure, which it shares in common with some of our tallest structures, there is nothing else that ties it to anything. If the glass down the middle resembled the rivers through the city, then they could have made the case that it serves as an architectural representation of our geography, but that level of thought wasn’t put in. Hell, if they just built a giant modern interpretation of a lighthouse, it’d make sense, since it’s so detached from the rest of the skyline, and in the capital of the ocean state, but there was no attempt to connect to anything here at all. This is a monument to somebody just getting what they want, not to the city. Architecture is a language, and this building says very little about where it is.

    We don’t need to be desperate for development. Stuff is happening, and we’re growing slowly, but in a relatively healthy manner. We don’t want the problems of cities that give up their sense of place for development. Providence will be fine if this proposal doesn’t happen.

  19. Approval of this proposal is not a desperate act. It is support for a major development.

    True, “Stuff is happening, and we’re growing slowly…”
    The key is slowly and in a very small manner.

    “We don’t have the problems of cities that give up their sense of place for development”, true again.
    We have the problem of a small town mentality limiting growth!

    “Providence will be fine if this proposal doesn’t happen”, true again.
    Also true – more of the status quo…”too much, too big, too this, too that.

    ENOUGH. Time to grow up!

  20. Look, this is a civil forum where folks somewhat reasonably versed in such topics can discuss nuanced views on development. There’s no need for forced mantras.

    I don’t think there’s a single person that frequents this site that is against large-scale development, but the plague of many successful cities is that they become generic and lose their character. This has happened in many U.S. cities, and I’ve heard the tales of “Oh yeah, it was awesome until it was changed by folks that moved in and wanted to start changing things”. Providence can avoid developing the same problems that have plagued cities like Austin, Portland, Oakland, and New Orleans, where the desire for outside investment has drastically changed the fabric of those cities, and forced out the very folks that made them what they were. We have an opportunity that those cities don’t have, and one of the tools that we have to aid us in this opportunity is a very lively and consistent public discourse on the matters of infrastructure and development.

    I know we’re not all gonna agree on whether a project of this stature on this plot of land is what this city needs, but I haven’t heard a single justification in support of the proposal as it currently stands aside from the fact that it is a sizable investment in the city, and that it adds density, two things that everybody here inherently supports.

    For instance, I disagree with Jef that this design is better than the last. I agree with every other point he has made on this proposal, but we differ on that aspect. I appreciate that the last design was modern, but hinted at the setbacks of the Industrial Trust building with it’s own facade, and utilized a material (sorry Jef, brick) commonly found in the streetscape and skyline. To perhaps haphazardly speak on Jef’s behalf, he is seemingly not a fan of the imposition of materials that aren’t native to structures of a certain scale. Brick is literally a building block, belonging to structures that rely on it primarily for precisely its structure, it is perhaps overused in our architecture, and I understand if he feels that it is forced and disingenuous on a highrise. I disagree a bit, but I understand, and his viewpoint has considerable merit. The deviation on these opinions are predominantly subjective.

    What is less subjective is that there it is always a net positive to accept any offering of investment, strictly on the terms of the proposed investor, and in the case of this proposal, since it’s been mentioned that the law has to be changed to allow it, there needs to be a better case made than the fact that they’re willing to build it, because there are plenty of plots where this can be built with much less hassle. They are seeking exception, and to justify exceptions, you must bring something exceptional.

  21. I agree that the building as currently shown has issues, although these are very early renderings and I would expect it to change during the design process, this issue is more about zoning then the architecture. The having height limits in a city center is an arbitrary requirement. There is no context in the 195 district and the height limits were generated through a master plan design which only had a basis on what the commission hoped would be built there. The real issue with this is that this building, by zoning, couldn’t be built ANYWHERE in Providence. The tallest zoning will allow is 300 feet with a 30% increase if other requirements are met. A large building on this site will extend the downtown and hopefully spark additional tall building development on the parking lots around the courthouse that would connect it back to downtown. It would also provide the new park people and activity as it will be their backyard.

    No matter what the design of the building is there will be people who like it and people who hate it but the issue here is that Providence will not allow buildings of this scale to be built without zoning variances and that is an issue that needs to be addressed.

  22. I think there have been valid points all over. I agree Providence and RI should be more welcoming to investment. However, to David’s point, being more investment friendly is not the same as giving large exceptions for one plot of land.

    For example, I think the city should just get rid of its height limit between 95 and Dorrance/eddy or Richmond streets. It does no good to put such limits on buildings in the middle of downtown. But It is my opinion that giving so much waterfront space to one developer is a terrible strategy for the city.

    A lot of the posts on this website have to do with the train station and bus system, the reason the trains aren’t right downtown is because the State and the Fed’s spent hundreds of millions to uncover the rivers and open them for public use (e.g. waterfire). It would seem crazy to me then to basically block the river from view again instead of just allowing this building to be built two blocks away (which will still have river and bay views for the occupants).

  23. To quote Kyle Robinson, “A large building on this site will extend the downtown and hopefully spark additional tall building development on the parking lots around the courthouse that would connect it back to downtown. It would also provide the new park people and activity as it will be their backyard”.
    This has been my argument the entire time. People see that rendering and think it will be the only building between there and the financial district forever while they forget that cities build and expand. The Superman building when constructed in the 1920’s, was the tallest in NEW ENGLAND, and was at least 200′ taller than anything around Providence. Today its an icon.

  24. I agree with everyone supporting this project, and I push back on the statement that we are growing at a healthy (albeit slow) rate. Downtown is not sustainable by any means. There are just not enough people living there, that’s why I supported Fane’s original 3 tower proposal. An additional 2,500 or so people living right on the RiverWalk would have forever changed Providence and kick started a new round of development to serve those new residents. In predictable fashion, Rhode Island rejected that, and won’t even allow this developer to build one tower. At this point, its just laughable.

    Most agree that we are at the end of the business cycle that has lasted the last 9 years or so. This is the first time in those 9 years that their have been more than one crane in the sky at any given time. To me, that says that all the easy projects have been done elsewhere and developers finally see opportunity here. The fact is, if you don’t fast track these projects you lose them forever. Anyone that has followed the booms and busts of Providence knows that these projects that would have redefined the city typically happen in the final year of the business cycle, and when the city holds up development and obsesses over change, the credit markets dry up and the lots sit empty.

    To all the aspiring architects, you aren’t going to predict the styles that end up being iconic. To the anti-change, anti-progress, NIMBY, “too big for Providence” crowd… travel more and you will see that if your city isn’t growing then its dying, and to all the “no tax breaks for luxury condos” crowd… we live in a different world where attracting high net worth individuals can provide a large boost (and stability) to the local economy (just look at what smaller countries and city-states are doing with selling citizenship.

    Build this. The empty lots between Wexford and the Financial District will fill in quickly once word gets out that the entire district has a 600 foot height zoning. Or even better, eliminate height restrictions altogether and let’s go vertical.

  25. I agree with everything kcb said. People in providence are so selfish when it comes to people from the outside wanting to help. Nobody in Rhode Island is investing that kind of money into downtown right now. Bringing this project will bring more people to downtown and investors to where hopefully more skyscrapers can be built and have providence looking like a real downtown instead of some small New England downtown look. We need a modern look again we are the creative capital. Place for young vibrant artist, professionals and locals to enjoy and embrace. Let people know from other states we can keep up specially if we are the go to second city in New England.

  26. This is an excerpt from a great article about the importance of fostering a sense of place vs. the need to build generic, towering monuments. This article focuses on Washington DC’s building height limitation, but applies to Providence as well. Washington is an excellent example of a city that doesn’t need height to be unique and provide a sense of place. I’d rather be a Washington DC than a Houston, Texas. (Sorry Houston)

    “But this would also be the case if heights hadn’t been capped since 1910. For evidence, look at every other large American city where the skyline is in flux. Attention-seeking developers would hire big-name architects to do something “different.” The mediocre glass boxes, meanwhile, would be 25 or 40 stories instead of 13 stories tall.

    That’s the real reason that Washington should embrace its low-slung skyline, caveats aside.

    Consider: this is a moment in our culture when authenticity is valued above all else. Cities tout any element that sets them apart, any rooted sense of place, any hint of local flavor. Idiosyncrasy is where it’s at.

    Which is exactly what downtown Washington offers—a global city predicated on the notion that a predictable march of uniform forms is a virtue. Politicians come and go, the political skies may darken, but the nation’s capital is memorable because of its democratic landmarks and the spatial grandiosity of wide boulevards and a central mall. The architecture defers to the setting.

    Put another way?

    Washingtonians, relax. You don’t need to grow up to show off.”

    Full article: https://www.citylab.com/design/2018/05/the-case-for-dcs-flat-skyline/558368/

  27. Pingback: City Plan Commission Meeting – May 15, 2018 | Greater City Providence

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