New aid plan proposed for RI's tallest building

The owner of Rhode Island's tallest building has a new plan asking for $39 million in state aid to refurbish the landmark Providence tower.

The owner of Rhode Island's tallest building plans to ask the legislature for $39 million in state aid over a period of four years to help pay to redevelop the vacant former bank building into apartments.

Newton, Mass.-based High Rock Development announced details of the proposal for the 26-story skyscraper at 111 Westminster, also known as the Superman building. It's the second try for public financing for the estimated $115 million renovation project. A similar effort failed last year.

While the proposal involves the same amount of state aid this year, some of the details laid out by High Rock on Tuesday are different this time around. The plan requests that the legislation establish a redevelopment and revolving fund for the project and that the state contribute $9.75 million per year for four years, starting in 2015. Over a period of 10 years, the owner would pay $500,000 into a fund to improve downtown's Kennedy Plaza, which sits at the doorstep of the tower.

High Rock also would put into place steps to ensure the project is completed before any state money is spent. The company said it would not receive any of the money until the building receives a certificate of occupancy, and it would take out a completion bond to guarantee the project is completed.

The company would repay up to $9 million of the state aid to a fund that would support future projects before the owner receives any profit.

David Sweetser, High Rock's owner, said on Wednesday the project will create badly needed jobs as well as revitalize an important part of downtown Providence.

"It's an economic driver for the city of course, but I also think it's an economic driver for the state," he said.

Company spokeswoman Dyana Koelsch said Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. John Carnevale have agreed to introduce the legislation, which is still being drafted.

Sweetser said the leadership in the General Assembly is "well versed" in what he hopes to do. He said he has not yet spoken with new House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, but plans to soon.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, said Wednesday that the request will be considered like every other but that "I certainly have to question" the state's interest in making such a big investment.

"Taxpayer resources are limited at this point," he said. "I'm very skeptical."

The 86-year-old building has been empty for a year, since Bank of America moved out, and High Rock says the building needs extensive renovations. Its request for state money comes against the backdrop of the state's failed $75 million loan guarantee to former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company, 38 Studios.