Superman Building — Where Are We 5 Years After It Went Dark

Monday, April 16, 2018

 

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Superman Building

The Superman Building — Providence’s tallest skyscraper and once the headquarters of America’s ninth largest bank — has now been vacant for five years. The dubious anniversary is a black mark on the state’s improving economy.

When Fleet Bank was in the building — officially the Industrial National Bank Building -- Providence's financial district was a busy hub. Today at lunchtime, the city's streets, like Westminster and Weybosset, are a fraction of what they once were. 

SEE APPRAISAL OF SUPERMAN BELOW

In June 2011, former Providence Mayor and downtown developer Joe Paolino prophetically warned that if Fleet Bank’s acquirer left the Superman Building it would be devastating for Providence’s business community.

Paolino said two years before Fleet's departure, that Providence, state, and federal officials needed to do whatever it took to keep the mega-bank in Providence.

Paolino began to raise eyebrows with his calls for the city to do whatever was needed to keep Bank of America in the city’s tallest and most well-known building. The bank was nearing the end of a 10-year lease agreed to in the early days of now-Congressman David Cicilline’s tenure as then-Mayor.

Paolino warned in 2011 that there was a real chance Bank of America could desert the downtown skyscraper. “It’s a ticking time bomb if they move out,” Paolino said. “It would be like the Biltmore closing. It would kill local businesses.”

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Mega-developer Joe Paolino warned that the building could go dark years in advance.

Superman Today

Now, five years after the building went dark, it has been tied to numerous potential tenants, including Citizens Bank, PayPal, and most recently, Hasbro.

Ultimately, Citizens decided to stay in Rhode Island and are in the midst of developing their own campus in Johnston. PayPal has never moved forward.

And as GoLocal first reported, Hasbro is looking to consolidate three different Rhode Island operations into one modern creative campus and Providence is a top location. The future development could include the Superman Building and one plan unveiled by GoLocal has Hasbro building a campus — the Hasbro Tower—  at the location of Superman Building which would be demolished.

When the news of the possible plan to demo the building broke, some Rhode Island leaders endorsed the idea.

Reaction to the "Hasbro Tower" was immediate and varied across the business community and the public. Top government financial expert Gary Sasse joined GoLocal's Business Monday just an hour after GoLocal broke the story and Sasse said the new tower and the demolition of Superman building would be a win-win. 

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Hasbro Tower -- the 36 story plan that is on the table.

Bob Whitcomb, former Editor of the editorial page of the Providence Journal and now GoLocal columnist said the proposal was a plus for Providence as the existing vacant building faces too many challenges to ever be restored. 

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation has not given up on reusing the building.

“We continue to work actively to secure a tenant,” said Stefan Pryor, RI Commerce Secretary, in an interview on Sunday. “We are in active communication with multiple possible corporate end users.”

The building’s condition, size, and infrastructure are all barriers to reuse.

The building’s elevators, heating, air conditioning, and electrical are all outdated and needs significant investment. There are also environmental issues that need to be addressed. 

Superman's Value

In 2014, GoLocal broke the story about the value — or lack of value — of the skyscraper. 

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RI Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor says there are possible tenants in the mix.

As reported the Superman Building in Providence has "no value," according to an appraisal conducted in 2014 by Providence-based appraiser Scotti and Associates.  

The findings show that the Industrial National Bank Building at 111 Westminster Street would cost between $60 million and $100 million to rehabilitate.

"It's my opinion for the highest and best use is to shutter the building until which point the market conditions improve to the point that rehabilitation is an option.  We estimate that as of December 31, 2012, the building has zero value," wrote Scotti in February 2014, referring to the 2012 date when the building's last tenant, Bank of America, moved out.  

The owner continues to press on. “We continue to work with all interested parties in attempting to lease this wonderful building and community asset. Our dialogue at both the state and local levels remains productive. Our resolve is strong and we are optimistic we will be successful.  We believe 111 Westminster Street can be redeveloped in a meaningful way that will create jobs and help to spur Rhode Island’s economy,” said Bill Fischer, spokesman for the building’s owners.

“It is a complex project,” said Pryor on Sunday. “We are pleased that there is interest.”

Pryor also pointed out that floors three through eight are attractive to many companies as the floor plates are 20,000 square feet each. He also pointed out that floors nine to 15 also have significant size floor plans large enough.

“This is not a project that is going to happen overnight,” added Pryor.

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Foundation of Superman Building PHOTO: Save Superman

About the Superman Building

The building was designed by the firm of Walker & Gillette. On October 1st, 1928, the building opened to the public. After its completion, 111 Westminster has withstood the ever-changing economic climates. By 1950, Theron Curtis, the bank’s Vice President, ordered the eagles removed. He stated to a reporter from the Providence Journal, “They were something the architect wanted up there. Supposed to look like a flower pot or something. You couldn’t tell from the street. A crazy idea, in my opinion.”

The building was home to one of the greatest business successes in Rhode Island history — the growth of Fleet Bank.

After Fleet had grown to the 9th largest bank in America, it was acquired by Bank of America (BoA). Over the next couple of years, BoA moved its operation out of the building and much of it out of Providence.

According to the "Save the Superman" website, “In 1982, Industrial Trust Company changed its name to Fleet Bank. The bank retained its headquarters in 111 Westminster Street until Fleet merged with Boston’s Shawmut Bank in 1995. At that point, the headquarters relocated to Boston and the company was renamed to Fleet Boston. In 1998, Fleet Boston was acquired by Bank of America.”

At 111 Westminster, Bank of America would remain its sole tenant until April 2013, when the bank relocated its branch to a smaller office nearby.

 

Related Slideshow: Superman Building Appraisal - 2014

 
 

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