OP-ED: The Rain from Fane May Cause Others to Abstain

Thoughts on city development projects on the horizon in the wake of Fane Tower’s demise


The Fane Tower – six years and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost investment later – is dead. Instead of a somber service, wild parties were thrown. Delays caused by a hostile development environment compounded by high interest rates and the developer’s unwillingness to compromise his extravagantly overbuilt design eventually made the project unbuildable. While the Fane Organization (headed by developer Jason Fane) had the personal resources to build the structure, he still wanted a bank or fund to provide financing – no one would. A $300 million investment gone.

Many are happy to argue the demerits of the building’s design, height, and other features, and others argue that it should have served a biomedical or lab-oriented function to support the burgeoning bio/pharma business being pushed by Brown and the state, but regardless, it would have been a major boon to the economy with thousands of construction and support jobs and would have expanded the Providence tax base on a major scale.

Doesn’t matter – Mr. Fane closed his checkbook, took his losses, and left town.

Meanwhile, the I-195 Commission was created from the relocation of the highway when RIDOT floated a $38 million bond to purchase the land from the federal government. The sale of the parcels was supposed to generate $43 million by 2022 to cover the bond, interest, and administrative costs. 

What we’ve seen so far is one heavily subsidized commercial/lab space that paid $1.00 for the land, a commercial/residential building that is relocating a major headquarters 10 blocks from its downtown location, a state laboratory/morgue that should be in the suburbs (not in a high-profile area of the city), a mixed-use shopping area and apartments, and a lot more apartments. The true long-term winners will be the developers.

The city needs jobs and tax revenue and this is the right place for them. Let the residential projects that are proposed for the east side of the river stay, but reserve the west side for commercial projects.

Don’t get us wrong – we love our Trader Joe’s and while traffic problems have been mostly tolerable, we hope that Mayor Smiley will make South Water Street two lanes again and remove the unused bike lane. As an appeasement, the road could be treated like Memorial Drive in Cambridge and closed to vehicular traffic one Sunday a month if you want to expand the “bridge experience.”

This brings us to a stickier situation that may require a major reality check for many people: the Industrial National Bank Building. We support the preservationists and all the proponents who want to see the building saved and made into apartments.

However, even with close to $100 million in state subsidies, historic tax credits, and a stabilization, it is still highly unlikely that with interest rates at these levels and banks in crisis that there is a lender willing to take an enormous risk (Pawtucket’s seemingly well-funded soccer stadium is in a similar situation). The developer of the Superman building pegs the cost at $215 million but most of the major builders in the area – many of whom have already declined to bid on the project – believe costs will well exceed $300 million. And that’s before the added unknowns and overruns, which will appear when they start to deconstruct the building.

While it might be nice to live in one of the 57 “affordable” apartments that could cost upwards of $1 million to build, it will still cost you between $1,384 and $2,076 per month in rent. Market rate rents could hit $5,000 if you believe the projections. And, by the way, there’s no parking.

Soon, there will be a day of reckoning and a decision will have to be made. The building’s owner, David Sweetser, and his company High Rock Development don’t have the capacity to write a check to cover the building’s cost. There are no traditional scenarios right now that appear to work on paper, and while some people would have the city and state underwrite the entire costs through bonds, even that is highly problematic because of interest rates and rent/occupancy assumptions.

If Mr. Fane couldn’t make a brand new luxury building economically viable, it is not a good harbinger. Here’s hoping we find someone like the Metropolis City Bank in the fictional town of Metropolis to ensure our “Superman” building gets off the ground.


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  • JArrighi

    I agree completely with every comment and observation here. What makes all this even more incredible is the fact that Boston, a few miles north, is thriving, with new buildings popping up all the time. In Providence, we still have grass (or sunflowers!) growing on vacant fields years after 195 was moved. It's really unbelievable. I think PVD is dying. The mayor has few options really to keep funding things, but you know it's bad when one option is to try to squeeze more money out of the colleges or hospitals (without them, the city would be 100% dead... tumbleweeds rolling through the streets... we should be sending them fruit baskets of thanks every month for not moving out of the city). And, as an aside, I agree with your comment on South Water street. It's a disaster. As expected, the bike lanes are nice debris fields, real eyesores, let alone the traffic safety implications. We should build bike lanes once people start moving into the city, which won't happen anytime soon until we can take care of what we have, rather than build more things to maintain.

    Monday, May 8, 2023 Report this

  • MVJohnson

    Once again, Mr. Fain and Mr. Triedman offer intellectually hollow views that lack any rigor that sound like they were generated at a dinner party rather through any research.

    As a neighbor, it's clear that the South Water Street lanes have been a great success: it has never been nicer to walk along the waterfront--the cars go slower, it's easier to cross, families and commuters can bike from downtown to the east bay bike path--what a pleasure! No parking was lost, and traffic continues to be a non-issue here as has been validated by traffic study after traffic study after traffic study. Is there a point where Mr. Fain can have the humility to admit he was wrong? Has he talked to the city's bike planners? Visited other cities with bike infrastructure? Does he have any clue what he's talking about when it comes to anything related to transportation planning besides shooting from the hip? A tremendous amount of thought and care has gone not the Great Street Plan. Perhaps take sometime to understand how that plan was generated?

    As for the 195 commission, they have ups and downs, but anyone who's been following life sciences in the state understands that the proposed lab building is incredible triumph: over 100,000 square feet of lab space for private companies and 80,000 additional square feet where state-employed scientists will be conducting high-level research including BSL-3-level research (the morgues won't be located here), all of which will bring hundreds of scientists to an area next to Brown Medical School where there is dire need for lab benches but none are available, basically creating the life sciences cluster the state has been clamoring for. Thousands of more square feet of lab space are being built next door at Point 225, where one of the largest wind energy clusters in the country is also located (I happen to work with one of those companies).

    Can the publishers here do us a favor and make the smallest effort to understand the topics they're writing about rather than writing a grossly uninformed, "you know what really grinds my gears"-style piece published to a wide audience? It's civically irresponsible.

    Monday, June 26, 2023 Report this