Press

Back to Press Coverage Main

32-story condo tower would hold R.I.'s highest homes

The Providence Journal, R.I. February 26, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- A joint venture of Providence and Boston developers plans to build a $ 90-million, luxury condominium tower on Westminster Street in the city's business center.

The 32-story tower would be the first skyscraper built in the Financial District in 20 years, since the Fleet Center opened across Westminster Street from the project site.

And it would help usher in what appears to be a new era for the Financial District as a sector devoted to residential and retail uses as well as offices.

Mayor David N. Cicilline,
Providence developer brothers Evan and Lloyd Granoff and Boston real estate investor Eamon O'Marah announced the project yesterday at a news conference in the mayor's office.

At 360 feet, the tower would be Rhode Island's tallest residential structure, according to the developers. But it would not match other skyscrapers on Westminster Street. The Industrial National Bank Building is 420 feet tall, and One Financial Plaza (more widely known as the former Rhode Island Hospital Trust tower) reaches 408 feet.

"This is a very exciting day," Cicilline said.

"It's the first spark of a development boom that is transforming downtown
Providence into one of the Northeast's premier centers for living, working and visiting."

O'Marah said the 130 new condos would sell for $ 500,000 to $ 2.5 million and would appeal to empty-nesters, young professionals, students, people associated with Brown University and RISD, and people from the Boston area. A similar, high-end residence would cost twice as much in Boston, he said.

The project would straddle the tapered end of a city block, behind the Turks Head Building, stretching from Westminster to Weybosset Street. It would feature a ground-floor grocery store and cafe on the Weybosset Street side, and the second through seventh floors would be parking levels, providing about 170 spaces.

Other projects already are contributing to the transformation of the Financial District. The Rhode Island School of Design is participating in the renovation of the 12-story Rhode Island Hospital Trust Building, circa 1919, at 15 Westminster St., for student apartments and the school library.

And another developer is renovating into luxury condos the former Peoples Savings Bank, a six-story building that dates to 1949 and also has frontage on Westminster Street.

Featuring a glassy, modern design, the tower announced yesterday would be connected to the nation's oldest indoor shopping center, the Arcade (which dates to 1828), providing a new stream of customers for the lightly patronized commercial building.

But it would doom a Colonial Revival building at 90 Westminster St., put up in 1929, that historians consider integral to the Downtown
Providence National Historic District.

If the city gives permission, the developers would raze that building as well as another at 110 Westminster St. The building at 110 Westminster, which used to house a Buck-a-Book store, separates the parking lot from the Arcade.

The building at 90 Westminster was extended through to Weybosset Street in 1950, and at the city's request the developers would save the neoclassical frontage on Weybosset to a depth of about 20 feet. That would serve as the front of the 7,500-square-foot grocery store and cafe.

Cicilline and the developers said the project, to be called One Ten Westminster, would be financed privately and not require any public subsidies. O'Marah said the developers hope to break ground this year and to complete construction by late 2007.

The building would contain about 390,000 square feet, with the condos ranging in size from 900 square feet to 3,500-plus square feet for two-story units. Its seventh floor would be dedicated to an 11,000-square-foot, outdoor garden, a fitness center and a residents' lounge with a full kitchen.

"This will not be just another development, but a piece of notable architecture for
Providence, a centerpiece the city can point to and be proud of," Lloyd Granoff said.

The Granoffs considered creating office space at the site, but opted for residential use because, Lloyd Granoff said, the market for first-class office space in
Providence has been static for years.

Asked whether the changes planned for the Financial District represent its decline as an office center, Granoff said, "I wouldn't use the word decline. After 5 o'clock it is totally dead. I think now you're going to find a mixture (of uses) there. At night you're going to have people walking around. And that's a lot nicer thing."

O'Marah is a partner in
BlueChip Properties, which describes itself as an investor and developer of medium- to large-scale, mixed-use urban developments. It has investments in residential, retail and hotel projects.

The Granoffs own Granoff Associates, a
Providence holding company that owns and manages real-estate and operating businesses. They own 700,000 to 750,000 square feet of commercial and industrial property, including the Turks Head Building, the Arcade, the Union Trust Building on Dorrance Street, where the Federal Reserve banquet hall is located, and the Heritage Building, an office building at 321 South Main St.

Lloyd Granoff, of
Providence, is chairman of the Providence Public Buildings Authority. Evan Granoff, of Bristol, is chairman of the Downtown Providence District Management Authority. The authority is a new public agency that will oversee a special safety patrol and cleaning crew in Downcity and parts of the Financial and Jewelry districts.

Cicilline made clear that he supports the project and hailed the potential tax revenue that it represents. But it still has to pass muster with a little-known city board called the Downcity District Design Review Committee. Any building demolition in that district requires the approval of the committee, which also regulates other aspects of development.

Cicilline appoints the committee, which is to be reconstituted under a revamped special zoning ordinance for Downcity. The predecessor ordinance was ruled invalid in Superior Court, but the city appealed to the state Supreme Court and rushed through a new ordinance as a stopgap.

Contending that the demolition protections contained in the predecessor ordinance were void, the Granoffs last year filed for permits to demolish 110 Westminster and 90 Westminster. When the city failed to issue the permits, they sued.

Both cases are pending, and Lloyd Granoff said the tower project would proceed regardless.

Evan Granoff presented the demolitions as a necessary tradeoff for economic development and said that although the proposed tower would have a modern design, it would be made compatible with the Arcade and the Turks Head Building.

The potential loss of 90 Westminster is cause for concern to William McKenzie Woodward, an architectural historian for the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.

The building has been officially determined a contributing structure to the architectural and historical significance of the downtown historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building at 90 Westminster arguably would be eligible for National Register listing on its own, he said.

It is significant, Woodward said, because of its quality as an example of a Georgian Revival commercial building of the early 20th century, and the fact that it was built to be the headquarters of Rhode Island's oldest bank.

Listing a building or a district on the National Register confers no protection from demolition or alteration unless federal financing or historical-rehabilitation tax credits are involved. In this case, they apparently are not.

Back to Press Coverage Main