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Providence Preservation Society Symposium – November 6-8, 2014

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The 2013-2014 Providence Symposium speaker series is cultivating an important dialogue on preservation, development and quality of place, with a specific focus on Downtown Providence. From open space to transportation, economic assets to partnerships, we explore the key components in the making of a great city.

The series brings national experts to Providence to talk about creating healthy and successful urban environments. Join us and take part in this critical conversation about our city.

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News & Notes

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Bloomberg: Icahn Urges Family Dollar CEO to Seek Sale ‘Immediately’

The retailer has been struggling to compete with rival discounters, drugstores and big-box retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. To combat slumping sales, Family Dollar embarked on a review of its business this year. As part of its turnaround plan, the company is closing about 370 underperforming stores and opening fewer new ones. It’s also lowering prices in a bid to entice shoppers.

‘Consistently Underperformed’

Family Dollar has “consistently underperformed its peers” in same-store sales, total revenue growth, sales per store, sales per square foot, operating margins and capital-structure efficiency, Icahn wrote in the letter, which opened by remarking on the “cordial nature” of the previous night’s discussion.

Meanwhile, in Providence we’re throwing out our zoning regulations to accomodate the “proven business model” of this “consistently underperforming” retailer. Olneyville risks ending up with an empty big box more craptacular than the building that was torn down to make way for it.

Providence Business News: Solomon proposes citywide 15-year tax stabilization plan

“I want to send a loud and clear message to the development community that Providence is open for business,” Solomon said in the news release. “If we don’t bring certainty to this process we are losing a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow our tax base, grow our population and create much needed jobs. I plan to reach out to the developers who have expressed frustration with the process to assure them my plan will remove the politics and uncertainty that has plagued this city for far too long.”

The new system would be based on recommendations issued earlier this year by an economic development task force formed by the city council partly in response to the continued vacancy of the Industrial Trust building.

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PBN: ‘Superman’ developer submits revised proposal for state aid

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The owner of the vacant “Superman Building” at 111 Westminster St. downtown Wednesday proposed a new $39 million package of state assistance to renovate the tower.

In its second attempt to gain state financing for a rehabilitation project, High Rock Development said it would seek legislation to create a 111 Westminster Historic Redevelopment Program and Revolving Fund to finance converting the office building into a mixed-use project with 280 apartments.

Full disclosure: I work for Cornish Associates who are consulting with the building’s owner, High Rock Development.
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WPRI: ‘Superman’ building again seeks state support

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Superman Building banking hall. Image by Jef Nickerson

The owner of Providence’s tallest building said Monday he will again seek state support to help turn the vacant skyscraper into apartments.

David Sweetser, whose real estate investment firm High Rock Development owns 111 Westminster Street, is calling for a “public-private partnership” to renovate the building that he claims would create hundreds of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state.

- WPRI
Full Disclosure: I work for Cornish Associates who are consultants for High Rock Development.
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Providence Preservation Society 2014 Ten Most Endangered Properties

The Providence Preservation Society has released its annual list of the Ten Most Endangered Properties in Providence. The list will be highlighted with a photo exhibit at their annual meeting tonight.


The List:

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All photos by Jesse Burke for PPS.

57 Federal Street (Early 19th Century) Federal Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2014 Building type: Residential
Threat: Neglect

Among the oldest buildings on Federal Hill, 57 Federal Street is a two story, 5-bay-facade, center hall-plan house with a single interior brick chimney and a central entrance with sidelights, located between Atwells Avenue and Broadway. While Federal- era houses of this style are not uncommon on the East Side of Providence, the Federal Hill neighborhood was largely undeveloped grazing land before 1820. Although 57 Federal Street is likely one of the oldest remaining buildings in the immediate area, it is not included on any historic resource survey, and is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

While the existing door head may be a modern replacement, several of the building’s details remain remarkably intact including the building’s clapboards and window sash. Unfortunately, the house has been abandoned for several years, with broken windows on the second story leaving the building completely open to the elements.

In the coming year PPS hopes to better document this unique building, and work with the City of Providence to fully secure the building and address maintenance and safety issues.

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What Cheer / What Jeer 2013

We’re running a little late this year but we’re finally ready to run down the What Cheers and What Jeers of 2013.

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WHAT CHEER: South Street Power Station (Maybe)

In 2013 we got another plan to redevelop the moribund South Street Power Station. While numerous plans for the building, which at one point was known as the Dynamo House, have come and gone, this latest plan engenders optimism as Brown University is involved now.

In January the New York Times and then The Brown Daily Herald reported on rumors of the university becoming involved in the project. Then in June Brown announced it’s plans for the building in a letter to the campus community.

Those plans include a home for the long talked about URI/RIC Nursing School, office space for Brown, and some sort of retail component in the former power station building. Brown also has a developer engaged in building a student apartment building in the neighboring parking lot along Point Street and the City is involved in plans for a parking structure across Point Street from that.

The latest news on the project comes from the ProJo just before Christmas with reports that the PRA is considering condemning the building so the project can move forward.

While this could all be looked at as another in a long line of proposals for the building, Brown’s involvement makes this proposal seem more promising. 2014 will show us if this project actually moves forward.

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Providence Preservation Society statement regarding the Superman Building

Superman Building

Photo by Jef Nickerson

PPS’s Statement Regarding The Industrial Trust Building:

The Providence Preservation Society believes carefully considered redevelopment planning at the vacant Industrial Trust Building at 111 Westminster Street, Providence, is urgent and makes the following observations:

  • The Industrial Trust Building possesses a high degree of civic and architectural value.
  • The building is prominently located in downtown Providence, is an iconic visual statement in the Providence skyline, and its substantial bulk and idiosyncratic massing make it an important placeholder in the streetscape of one of the three main east/west thoroughfares in the City.
  • Given the very large scale of the building, its vacancy is a material drain on the fragile economy of downtown Providence and, by extension, on the economic vitality of the entire State.
  • The Industrial Trust Building is situated in Providence’s Financial District where recent private sector
    development evidences the beginnings of an economic renaissance. A vacant 111 Westminster Street places this renaissance in jeopardy.
  • For over 25 years, the Providence Preservation Society has participated in and sometimes initiated strategic conversations to facilitate challenging development projects in historic properties, particularly those large in scale. PPS has deep experience in this area of historic preservation planning and economic development and offers its assistance in moving the project to reality.
  • We well understand that development projects in historic buildings in Providence, especially those of a large scale, have required a public /private partnership in order to make them financially feasible. These subsidies have come in many forms. PPS offers no specific advice at this time as to the exact nature of any particular public role in the financing for redevelopment of this very important building.
  • Trustees believe that moving forward to create a vibrant, economically sound plan for the Industrial Trust Building is critical.

Continuing Engagement on The Future of The Industrial Trust Building:

The Providence Preservation Society is keenly interested in the future of 111 Westminster Street for the reasons outlined above. The organization intends to proceed with a high level of engagement in planning for the property’s re-use. It offers its expertise in preservation planning and development to the building owner and his development team, to the City of Providence, and to the State of Rhode Island and its agents. We look forward to tailoring the ways in which this engagement might take place to the particular circumstances of the property and its ownership. Our organization acknowledges that this may be the most critical development challenge currently facing any historic building in Providence, and one of the most important to resolve.

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PBN: Downtown vision tied to ‘Superman’?

Central to the argument for saving Providence’s Superman Building with public investment is a vision of the downtown economy driven by residents as much as office workers.

It’s a vision that’s emerged over the last two decades of downtown revitalization and would take a major leap forward if Rhode Island’s tallest building was filled with 280 apartments in the heart of the Financial District.

The new residents and their neighbors in other buildings would draw different services, such as a supermarket or expanded mass transit, than offices would.

The two recent studies of potential uses for the Superman Building at 111 Westminster St. outline the demographic and market shifts that have local developers rushing away from office construction toward rental housing.

Full disclosure, I work for Cornish Associates.
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The falcons are hatching

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The peregrine falcon eggs atop the Superman Building are hatching. It looks like two of the four eggs have hatched so far and they are being fed something now (a rat, a pigeon?).

Watch them on the Peregrine Falcon Webcam.

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AP and ProJo reports on the Superman Building

The Providence Journal: Future uncertain for empty icon

Bank of America confirmed Tuesday that it has moved the last of its employees out of the Art Deco skyscraper, which earned its nickname from its resemblance to The Daily Planet in the 1950s “Superman” TV series. The bank’s departure leaves a Jazz Age monument to Rhode Island’s industrial might, when it opened in 1928, as a virtual 26-story tombstone marking the state’s economic decline.

Tearing down the building for something more practical “is not an option,” said Fischer. Other alternatives “would not be good for the city,” he added, such as leaving it vacant or renovating it for offices, which would create a glut of office space and depress commercial rental rates.

Fischer called rental apartments “the highest and best use of the property,” bringing 500 more people to live downtown while creating at least a year and a half of construction work that would benefit the economy.

Boston.com: Superman building owner wants historic tax credits

The building has 350,000 square feet, and High Rock hopes to build around 290 apartments of various sizes, Fischer said. The first floor, which now includes a grand lobby with high ceilings and marble columns, could be used as a restaurant or other commercial space, but the rest would be residential, he said. Among the issues High Rock is looking at is how to address parking since the building does not have it, Fischer said.

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