- Apartments would range from $2,071 to $5,287 a month
- Housing advocates called for more affordable housing
PROVIDENCE — The Providence Finance Committee gave the green light to a $29 million tax stabilization agreement, Tuesday night, for the owner of the 26-story Superman building, part of a larger deal to turn the long-vacant property from offices into apartments.
The finance committee heard testimony from a packed meeting chamber, while others waited outside, in a line that snaked around City Hall, mostly made up of the neon green shirts of trade union workers.
Despite the massive interest in the tax stabilization agreement and the huge line, held in with metal barriers on the sidewalk, only one person was stationed at city hall to check people into the building.
City Council Spokesman Parker Gavigan wrote in an email that the city council isn’t responsible for manning the front desk and the committee delayed starting the meeting by 25 minutes to let more people in.
“The council office heavily advertised the meeting, how to submit written testimony beforehand, and posted links for access to all the documents via social media,” he wrote.
In all, 16 written statements were submitted, including a letter from Mayor Jorge Elorza.
Gavigan wrote that the mayor’s office was responsible for the staff at the front desk.
Although the meeting was broadcast via Zoom, no remote testimony was taken.
Inside the meeting, trade union representatives screamed and shouted in support of their speakers and the project, while housing advocates hooted for theirs. The trade union representatives said they want the tax stabilization agreement to pass so it will provide more job stability to their members.
One housing advocate was taken out of the meeting by police officers. Police left alone the equally rowdy trade union advocates.
Both opposition and support center on money
Building Trades President Michael Sabitoni said the redevelopment project of the Industrial Trust tower is one of the most significant he has seen in his career, comparable to the Providence Place mall, which is seeking to extend its own tax break.
“This building is iconic,” he said.
The proposed redevelopment would create an estimated 1,600 construction jobs.
Providence Place agreement:Apartments, other services may come to Providence Place as owners look to extend tax break
Providence Foundation Assistant Director Nicholas Freeman lauded the agreement and plan, saying it will save an iconic piece of architecture and because it is such a large public investment.
Mayor-Elect Brett Smiley spoke in favor of the agreement and said he worked on many projects that almost got commercial tenants for the building, but everything always fell through.
“It’s critically important to turn the lights back on,” he said.
Direct Action for Rights and Equality organizer Terri Wright told the committee that the tax treaty is a bad deal and bad politics, as too few of the apartments are affordable and what is considered affordable is too expensive.
Can you afford to live in the ‘Superman’ building? Check out the rent eligibility guidelines
Wright called for 30% of the units to be restricted to those making 30% of the area median income, $20,300 a year for a single person or $29,000 a year for a family of four.
Wright said Providence neighborhoods are being heavily gentrified and the poor can’t live downtown.
“This is what I call profits over people,” she said.
Dr. Nithin Paul, a doctor with the Thundermist Health Center in Woonsocket, said most of the people he takes care of could never afford one of the apartments, as the state continues to be in a housing crisis.
“Every week we see new families with kids, going from Providence to Woonsocket, where the only warming shelter is, because they couldn’t afford the rent.”
“We cannot keep putting it off,” Paul said.
The tax treaty must still go to the city council and get passed, twice.
What the Superman Building deal is about
The tax treaty would save owner High Rock Westminster $29 million in taxes over 30 years.
In all, the redevelopment and repurposing of the office building into mostly apartments is expected to cost $223 million.
Analysis:Superman Building tax deal would save owner $29 million, Providence analysis says
If the property tax treaty is added to the $15 million in already announced city aid, the $26 million pledged by the state and $22 million in expected federal assistance, the estimated public contribution to the Superman Building redevelopment exceeds $90 million.
With the tax deal, the owner will pay $26.8 million over 30 years in taxes and without, it would pay $56.2 million over the same time, according to the city’s analysis.
High Rock currently pays $498,910 per year in taxes on the Superman Building, the assessed value of which has declined as it has sat empty since 2013.
The proposed deal would freeze High Rock’s tax bill for the next 10 years, even as the tower becomes more valuable as it is renovated and filled with rent-paying tenants.
In 2033, the tax bill would jump to $748,910 per year and stay that way for a decade.
How much will apartments in the Superman building cost?
According to data provided by the developer, the “affordable” units, 20% of the total, will range from $1,384 a month to $2,076, which “will adjust with” area median income.
Retail space will make up 27,000 square feet of space, the grand banking hall space another 26,000, and the amenity space for the residential units will take up 72,000 square feet.
The proposed market rents vary widely depending on size:
• Studio: $2,071 to $2,289
• One bedroom: $2,616 to $3,052
• Two bedrooms: $3,706 to $4,142
• Three bedrooms: $4,796 to $5,287
By comparison, a $700,000 30-year mortgage at 7% interest would cost $4,657 a month, less than the cheapest three-bedroom apartments, priced at $4,796.
Headed for debate:30-year tax break for Providence’s ‘Superman Building’ faces City Council debate
Also by comparison, the Regency Plaza apartments on Washington Street range in price from $1,350 to $1,840 for a studio, $1,495 to $2,355 for a one-bedroom, $2,195 to $4,600 for a two-bedroom and $2,390 to $3,245 for a three-bedroom.
The size of apartments in the Superman building would range from 421 to 653 square feet for studios, 451 to 964 square feet for one-bedroom apartments, 802 to 1,000 square feet for two-bedroom apartments and 1,198 to 1,408 for three-bedroom apartments.
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Reach reporter Wheeler Cowperthwaite at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @WheelerReporter.