PROVIDENCE — Nearly one year after plans to finally fill the long-vacant Industrial National Bank building, also known as the Superman building in downtown Providence were unveiled, it’s still unclear when construction could begin.
Owner High Rock Development told the Globe that while some parts of the pre-development phase completed, they are still working on finalizing their financing. But required agreements with state entities still have not been signed, which could hold up millions in subsidies.
“The work to redevelop the Superman building is ongoing and an enormous amount of work has been achieved to date,” Bill Fischer, a spokesman for Massachusetts-based High Rock Development and its principal David C. Sweetser, said Thursday. “Our team has conducted select demolition for engineering and environmental analysis.... Architectural plans have also been completed to such specificity that they now show which direction every door will swing in the building.”
But there has been “no signed commitment letter to date,” Christine Hunsinger, Rhode Island Housing’s chief strategy and innovation officer, wrote in an email to the Globe late Wednesday. The quasi-public agency committed $5.5 million toward the project.
The Superman building, which is the tallest structure in the state and is located at 111 Westminster St. in downtown Providence, has been vacant since Bank of America moved out from their offices on the ground floors on April 12, 2013. Nine years later, on April 12, 2022, Sweetser was welcomed by state and political leaders, housing providers, and members of the press at the Rhode Island State House. He was praised for reaching a deal with the state’s commerce department, which was led by then-commerce secretary Stefan I. Pryor, who is now the state’s housing secretary.
Their plan, which requires millions in public subsidies, is to turn the building into more 285 apartment units as well as commercial space. Of those units, 20 percent of which will be reserved for affordable housing. Market rate rents will range from $2,100 to $5,300 per month, according to documents obtained by the Globe.
In 2022, Sweetser said the project would cost more than $220 million and High Rock Capital would be committing more than $42 million toward the redevelopment — including $32 million in cash equity.
With inflation, the high cost of materials, and a labor shortage, it’s unclear if that estimated cost has increased. Fischer declined to comment on any estimated cost changes, and declined to provide any renderings or architectural plans to the Globe. He also would not answer questions about when construction might begin.
Fischer said High Rock remains “fully committed” to working “with all stakeholders and advancing this project in order to bring it to reality.”
In a statement sent to the Globe on Thursday, Pryor spokesman Joseph Lindstrom said the housing department has “our eye on this project” and confirmed that Pryor is “in communication” with both High Rock and the commerce department.
“We remain of the opinion that this project would be a valuable contributor to the vitality of our capital city — and an important source of new housing units in our state,” said Lindstrom.
The state is expected to provide a total of $26 million in contributions from existing housing and economic development programs. The deal also included $10 million in a loan from the City of Providence’s Housing Trust through the city’s redevelopment agency, in addition to a $5 million grant from the city.
The plan was also supposed to include $22 million in federal Historic Tax Credits and $2 million in federal New Markets Tax Credit proceeds. The Rhode Island Foundation was expected to provide bridge financing for the Rebuild Rhode Island Tax Credits, which would reduce the project’s financing costs.
Fischer said Sweetser is working with a “myriad of consultants” to finalize necessary information and materials for “critical project components,” such as the information needed for the Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program and other project financing.
The use of public funds has sparked public debate that has largely divided the city into two camps: one that wants to see the building redeveloped after being vacant for nearly 10 years, even if it means using public funds; and one that argues a wealthy developer is getting a significant “bailout” from a city that has been plagued by a state-wide housing crisis.
In May 2022, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s board of directors approved $15 million in Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits and $5.7 million from the quasi-public agency’s “First Wave” fund. In November 2022, after contentious public hearings, the City Council voted to recommend a 30-year tax stabilization agreement for the iconic art-deco building.
Lindsay Russell, a spokeswoman for the state’s commerce department, told the Globe that these funds from commerce will not be paid until the project receives a certificate of occupancy. “These are key tax payer protections built into the incentive programs,” she said.
Russell said any questions related to banking commitment letters can only be answered by High Rock. As for next steps, Russell said the state and High Rock are “mutually working on finalizing the project’s incentive agreement.”
The tax stabilization agreement, also known as a TSA, would provide High Rock a significant discount on its taxes for 30 years — shrinking their taxes owed from $56 million at its current value to $26.8 million over three decades.
In a statement, Governor Dan McKee’s spokesman Olivia Darocha said the redevelopment of the building is important for “Rhode Island’s economy as a whole.” She said the governor — and members of his cabinet — continue to be in touch with High Rock “on a routine basis.”