PROVIDENCE — The Superman building, Rhode Island’s tallest structure, may not be vacant for much longer.
The building’s owner, Massachusetts-based High Rock Development, finally made a deal with Rhode Island after years of back-and-forth negotiations, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor confirmed to the Globe on Tuesday.
Pryor unveiled specific details regarding the High Rock’s plans to a Globe reporter Tuesday, just before an announcement that marked the end of nine years of vacancy. April 12, 2013 was the last day that the building’s final tenant, Bank of America, operated there.
High Rock plans to convert the tower into 285 residential units, 20 percent of which will be reserved for affordable housing. Approximately 8,000 square feet will be used for commercial office space and another 26,000 square feet, where the bank used to be, will be used for “retail, community, and event space.”
Of the affordable units, 10 percent will be for individuals who make up to 120 percent of the area median income (also known as AMI), or $72,650 annually for an individual; 5 percent will be for individuals who make up to 100 percent of AMI, or $60,550; and 5 percent for individuals who make up to 80 percent of AMI, or $48,450. The rest of the units will be market-rate units.
Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza said it is “unprecedented” to have so many affordable housing units in this type of development. He also said this project could help bring a renewed vision for development in the Kennedy Plaza area, with the Plaza going from a bus hub for the state to a gathering spot for the city.
“These new investments will bring new life into this iconic tower,” said Pryor, who also said there is a commitment in place to use 20 percent of contractors from women- and minority-owned businesses.
Prior said the project will cost an estimated $220 million, and will create about 1,500 construction jobs. A spokesman for governor’s office confirmed that there is a tax stabilization agreement, but details have not yet been unveiled. A source close to the mayor’s office in Providence said a TSA would not be submitted on Tuesday, and that agreement would be for 30 years.
In a room full of state and political leaders, housing providers, and members of the press, Pryor also announced that High Rock would also be donating $500,000 over 10 years to Crossroads Rhode Island, one of the largest housing and homelessness service agencies in the state.
High Rock, led by principal David Sweetser, requested more than $48 million in tax assistance from the state. But Pryor said the state agreed to $26 million in tax assistance. Sweetser will also receive about $22 million in federal historic tax credits and will pursue another $2 million in federal new markets tax credits.
The city of Providence will contribute $5 million in grants to the project and a loan of $10 million, which High Rock will have to pay back within 40 years.
The Rhode Island Foundation, led by president and CEO Neil Steinberg, will bridge the state’s financing, said Pryor, but not provide a direct contribution.
The falcons nesting at the top of the building will not be disturbed, a spokesperson for High Rock Development said.
Sweetser, who Pryor credited as a “tough negotiator,” said when he first purchased the building in 2008, he was both “bullish” on Providence and Rhode Island. Finally, he said, “the necessary stars have aligned.”
“This is the next 100-year future for this building,” said Sweetser, who recalled visiting Providence with his parents and eating Italian food in Federal Hill.
“As Rhode Island continues to lead the region in our economic recovery, this project will help to maintain that momentum by reinvigorating downtown Providence, creating good-paying construction jobs, increasing our state’s market-rate and affordable housing supply, and generating further opportunities for the residents and businesses of our capital city,” said Governor Dan McKee on Tuesday.
A plan Sweetser reportedly submitted to the state last summer included more than 280 apartment units, with 10 percent earmarked for affordable housing. That project was estimated to take more than two and a half years and cost over $200 million, sources told the Globe previously.
Renewed talks with High Rock started about six months ago, said Pryor, have taken place “daily.”
The Superman building, formally known as the Industrial National Bank Building in the heart of downtown at 111 Westminster St., has had several potential tenants over the years but the deals ultimately fell through. State and city leaders had aggressively marketed the former bank and office building to local and national companies, and came close to landing Citizens Bank, according to past reports.
The largest hurdle on the project has always had to do with the cost: High Rock bought the building for $33 million in 2008, but the assessed value is now $14.2 million, according to city tax records. In 2013, High Rock sought $39 million in tax credits and other assistance to build apartment and retail space.
“It took us a long time to get to this point... But this is so needed. Especially now,” said Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos of the affordable housing component of the redevelopment plan.
Prior to the pandemic, business and state leaders, including former governor Gina Raimondo, had favored an anchor tenant to go on the ground floor. Samsonite, PayPal, and Hasbro were also courted. But recent data shows an increase in office space vacancy in downtown, and with companies continuing to have their employees to work from home because of the pandemic.
This plan, which would bring “hundreds of new residents downtown,” Pryor said, should be seen as an indication that Rhode Island “is back.”
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, said this deal could serve as a “model” for how housing negotiations could be conducted on the state level with developers.
Pryor told the Globe in early February that he was “cautiously optimistic” about a deal with High Rock. Though earlier deals fell apart, he said, “This is a solid deal framework.”
“There’s a lot of work that still needs to occur,” said Pryor, pointing out that planning approvals needed to be granted “and the owner needs to secure the debt financing.”
Pryor directed all questions related to ground breaking and construction completion goals to High Rock.
Pryor has been at the center of several negotiations and courting of other businesses related to the Superman Building, and political observers have wondered if he might announce a bid for state General Treasurer if the High Rock deal came through. But on Tuesday, Pryor pushed back against campaigning questions.
“All of our attention today is on the Superman building,” he said.