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As Providence's landmark skyscraper remains dark, come new calls for saving it

The former Industrial Trust building in downtown Providence has been empty since 2013. (WJAR)
The former Industrial Trust building in downtown Providence has been empty since 2013. (WJAR)
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April will mark seven years since Providence's renowned skyscraper went dark. The Industrial Trust building still stands above all others, but it sticks out like a sore thumb during the day. At night, you may miss it if you don't look closely.

"It's time for other people to own it and do something with it," former Providence mayor Joe Paolino said.

Paolino said he doesn't believe the structure, best known as the Superman building, is in the best hands.

"Quite frankly, enough is enough," Paolino said. "Seven years is long enough. It's too long."

Since Bank of America moved out in 2013, the building has been owned by High Rock Development, which refused to speak with NBC 10 News for this story.

A spokesperson shot down recent rumors that the University of Rhode Island would take space in the building. The university would only say it's in extremely preliminary talks.

"It's extremely depressing, that has totally depressed downtown real estate values and the appearance of downtown," Paolino said.

Paolino owns several properties downtown and he said he believes at least $100 million is needed to get the building up to code.

"Even the city is losing dollars," Paolino said. "The only living thing in that building is pigeons."

During the day, no part of the Industrial Trust building is lit, but when night falls, the city has recently seen a resurgence in the lantern at the very top. NBC 10 monitored that light over a two-week span recently and found that it flickers on around 9 p.m. and goes off around 5 a.m. the next morning.

"I like to think it's a little sign that the building knows we're talking about it," Rachel Robinson said.

Robinson is with the Providence Preservation Society, which recently put the Industrial Trust building at the top of its list of most endangered properties.

"We think it still has lots of life left in it," Robinson told NBC 10.

She compares it to buildings like South Street Landing, once abandoned, now home to the Rhode Island Nursing Education Center.

She said to demolish and start over would be the opposite of sustainability, and others agree.

"Our department focuses on adaptive reuse of existing structures," said Liliane Wong, an interior architecture professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.

RISD interior architecture students have studied the ups and downs, sides and corners of the Westminster Street landmark.

"We're thinking up seven different kinds of uses for this by the end of the semester based on demographics, analysis, and economics," Wong said.

With a simple goal: to share those with the building's current developers.

"We think that there is potential in that it is a key part of the city," Wong said.

So does Paolino, even when he sees the view outside his window: the sunken Superman building, just feet away.

"Everybody's been waiting for somebody to fly in and say 'I'm going to save your building,'" Paolino said. "It's not going to happen; if we don't do it ourselves, it's not going to happen."

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