A little off the top for Fane

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View of proposed Hope Point Tower (left center) seen from northeast. (Fane Organization)

Monday night’s public hearing into the Fane tower at City Hall barely seemed to push the needle one way or the other on whether to permit its developer, Jason Fane, to ignore the 100-foot height limit on the Jewelry District land where he hopes to build the skyscraper. He has trimmed his 598-foot proposal by 68 feet down to 530 feet. Easy on top!

That won’t shave away much community opposition to the project, but that was not the purpose. Fane hopes the haircut will provide enough cover for council members to vote yes when the full body votes on whether to hike the height limit. More members have voiced skepticism than support, I believe, but nobody knows how many members are truly undecided. To shrink the building from six times to five times what zoning permits will hardly affect the case for or against the tower. Fane realizes that, but hopes his feigned willingness to negotiate will win over some Nervous Nellies.

The fact remains that if the council approves this major zoning change, it will effectively nullify all zoning regulations in the city. At stake is not a tweak to squeeze an otherwise legal building under the wire. This would not be to bend but to discard the rules. It would be a declaration by a developer that he doesn’t care about the law – and equally, by any council member who votes to approve this profanity, a declaration of the same.

Unlike the first hearing held by the council’s Ordinance Committee in July, this time the committee did not vote to reject (as it did then) or recommend the zoning change. So far as I am aware, no date for a vote by ordinance has been set, much less a vote by the full council. It’s no wonder members aren’t eager to vote on this.

On the floor to the left of the council leadership’s dais, oddly enough, was a rather large scale model of the last proposal to challenge the tower that has been the city’s tallest since it opened in 1928 – the Industrial Trust Bank (“Superman”) Building, at 428 feet. One Ten Westminster, as it was called, was proposed in 2005 and would have risen to 520 feet, but went belly-up even before the Great Recession.

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Model of One Ten Westminster.

As you can see from the picture I took from the second-floor gallery last night, it was a nice model, showing the building (not so nice) in a parking lot girdled by historic fabric, including the Weybosset Street façade of the Providence National Bank (built in 1950). Some, including this reporter, have proposed putting the Fane tower at that spot. A commenter (see below) says the model was brought in by Sharon Steele, a leading opponent, to illustrate the idea of putting the Fane tower downtown.

The illustrations above and below seem intended to suggest that Hope Point Tower, as the building would be called, is just another piece of the downtown skyline, and not so terribly huge. Don’t be fooled. It is out of character and out of scale. If it were built on the same spot as the proposed One Ten Westminster, many opponents of the Fane tower would no longer have any really serious objection. It would be surrounded by several tall towers and instead of sticking out like a sore thumb in the Jewelry District it would serve as an exclamation point to the crescendo of the city’s skyline. Fane has resisted advice to relocate his project to a more reasonable site. He seems to want it to stand alone as a monument to his own iconic ego.

I don’t like its design, but I would find it difficult to oppose the Fane tower if it were moved to the center of downtown. Others are irked by its lack of affordable units, or its potentially negative impact on the housing market. The former will be a problem unless affordable units are added in further negotiations with the city. If the tower were built at the One Ten site, it would generate market activity rather than stifling it. It would bring vitality to the central business district – the real downtown, not the fake downtown that city planners are trying to make of the Jewelry District.

Fane’s proposed location would split this vitality between a pair of competing activity centers, one amid an urban treasure and another poking up amid an ill-conceived innovation district already under assault by the ugliness of what has been built thus far and what is proposed. The architecture of the I-195 corridor, including the Fane tower, is a set of clichés of machine-age, high-tech design that will be as inhumane, on a smaller scale, as Boston’s sterile and steroidal innovation district. What Providence needs is development that reflects and respects our historical character, that strengthens rather than undermines the city’s brand.

Whether at 598 or 530 feet in height, the Fane tower doesn’t cut the mustard.

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View of proposed Fane tower (left center) from southeast of downtown. (Fane Organization)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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18 Responses to A little off the top for Fane

  1. leveveg says:

    Reblogged this on LeveVeg and commented:
    Ble nylig klar over at det kan bli ekstreme høyhus ytterst på Tjuvholmen i Hamar! Kan forstå at Brummunddal har mindreverdighetskomplekser, og derfor applauderte Arthur Buchardts fallossymbol. Men Hamar! De er jo Innlandets hovedstad!

    Tenkte på å starte et nytt liv på Hamar etter nedhøvlingen av Hovdetoppen, med påfølgende UFO-dystopi. Men det er visst ingen som kjenner til grenser lenger, så ikke godt å vite hvor man skal gjøre av seg. Vi lever i sannhet i en narsissistisk tid 😦

    Hva som skjer hvis Røkke får realisert Nordens høyeste skyskraper på Fornebu, tør jeg ikke tenke på. På den annen side, makter de å stoppe Røkke, da blir det forhåpentligvis et kraftig tilbakeslag for himmelstreberne. Hvor ble det forresten av den sindige hedmarkingen?

    Like

  2. Steve says:

    Well, I live and own in Providence, in the ward the parcel is in, in one of the neighborhood associations that oppose, it and I did identify myself and my address. And I DO deeply care about the city and I DO strongly support the project.

    Where I agree heartily with David is in regards to due diligence in the design stage.

    Like

  3. petervanerp says:

    I found it interesting that every person who spoke against Hope Pointe Tower at the hearing identified where they live, and all but one are residents of Providence. Two thirds of the proponents did not identify where they live, and almost every one of them had a personal interest in the construction of the tower.
    I was sorry to see Professor St. Florian reduced to shilling for this abortion.
    Gianni Ria, the architect, spoke quite a bit about walkability and how the building contributes to it, but the 6 story parking podium belies his words. This is a building designed first for a car dependent city, not for a city built for people.

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    • Interesting observations, Peter. I’m sure the builders all live in Cranston, Johnston and North Providence, etc. They have no interest in Providence except to take jobs offered by those such as Fane who think destroying it is just as valid an option as any other. By the way, I think St. Florian’s column was a disguised backing-off of his earlier endorsement of the Fane tower, which was not even directly mentioned in the piece. At any rate, I hope for his sake that this was the intention.

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  4. Pingback: News Round-Up: Fane Tower | Greater City Providence

  5. Lewis Dana tried to post a reply but was glitched. He writes:

    That model of 110 Westminster St. was pulled out of her hat by Sharon Steele. She suggested that without anything up either sleeve, Mr. Fane could make steel (no pun intended there) rising magically into the stratosphere right now.

    As for the rendering at the top of your post, that’s a great demonstration of Fane Group flimflam. Why, golly, Hope Point Tower is a slim, graceful little thing, barely taller than the Manchester plant’s iconic triple stacks!

    Like

  6. stanleyxweiss@gmail.com says:

    Love the idea of putting it in the lot next to the Fleet building re an earlier proposal years back, however it’s a question of economics. The market for Fain to rent out his units is in the Jewelry District. Just as there exists the concept of “exceptions to the rule” grammatically, the role isn’t vacated. The exception here has to have real validity, and that validity relates to the growth of our new biotech industry forming in that area and the dollars of gargantuan scale that Fain will commit. Providence has been dormant for over 50 years as evidenced by its population decline, let’s move into the 21st-century

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    • I don’t buy it, Stan. I think the economics would be better downtown. If the Fane tower manages to attract enough renters to succeed in the Jewelry District, it will be at the expense of vibrancy downtown. There should be high-rise residential in the Financial District and medium-rise residential in new buildings on the vast empty lots in the old commercial district between Washington, Snow, Westminster and Aborn. This would create a market, with heightened commercial and residential activity, that would flow more naturally out into the Jewelry District (now the Planning Dept.’s faux downtown). Buff Chace is building two new buildings right now (one an addition on Westminster that amounts to a new attached building, the other on the old Journal parking lot). He’s got the right idea, and has expressed an intelligent, fair-minded opposition to the Fane tower. His interests and the city’s interests are one and the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Steve says:

        Wow. Lots to reply to,,,

        First, David –
        “If the Fane tower manages to attract enough renters to succeed in the Jewelry District, it will be at the expense of vibrancy downtown.”

        The Hope Tower parcel IS downtown!! It is at the corner of Dorrance Street, for Pete’s Sake!

        “There should be high-rise residential in the Financial District and medium-rise residential in new buildings on the vast empty lots in the old commercial district between Washington, Snow, Westminster and Aborn. This would create a market, with heightened commercial and residential activity,”

        Agree, but this Hope Tower parcel is a mere 3 city blocks from the Financial District you speak of !!

        Buff Chace buildings are the same stubby buildings that belong south of Ship Street.

        Finally, Deb –
        “The height of this structure is ridiculous. I’m not sure how anyone could think that is a fit for Providence?”

        It is a perfect fit. Providence is the core of New England’s second largest metro, Providence is the core of the nation’s 38th largest metro…yes, 38th out of 383. Top 10%, Providence is home to the nation’s 11th busiest Amtrak station, Providence’s population is growing! Want more?

        The vast majority of its residents are NOT opposed to this premier investment. This can build the momentum we need. Sick of large corporations and developers going 50 miles north.

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        • Steve, you are free to define the downtown as you wish, in a way that fits your agenda, and the city’s planners will agree, but doing so only exposes your argument as malarky. In expressing your aims you must still accept the city as it is and not assume it is already as you want it to be.

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          • Steve says:

            David – How dare you. I have no agenda. That parcel and district IS defined by the City as downtown. Not me. I deal in facts.

            Because the zoning has been so inadequate to the area (100 feet!) does not make it correct. They should be reflective of a downtown of a major city, not a little city.

            It is the small town thinkers and NIMBIES whos agenda is exposed as wanting that parcel to be like a little town green with silly little structures.

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          • Having an agenda is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have them!

            Sent from my iPod

            >

            Liked by 1 person

  7. The height of this structure is ridiculous. I’m not sure how anyone could think that is a fit for Providence? I hope it’s voted down.

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  8. Steve says:

    “Do we live in a society governed by the rule of law, or do we live in a society where a wealthy developer can ignore or bypass that apply to the rest of us?”

    Actually, zoning variances ARE part of the rule of law. That is why it is in front of the City Council. The real truth is that the ridiculously low 100 feet max for much of the Innovation District is fit more for an urban suburb of Providence – like New Bedford or Woonsocket – than downtown Providence. The darn lot is at the corner of Dyer and Dorrance! The City Council can and should correct that pitiful small town zoning – parcel/lot by parcel/lot.

    Funny that you cite rule of law in a sanctuary city with thousands of non-wealthy aliens violating federal law every day. I do agree with “It’s a sign of the times.”

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    • Rule of law as defined by thousands of citizens or by one developer? Nice try, Steve! No cigar.

      Sent from my iPod

      >

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      • Steve says:

        First – Thousands? I assume you mean the neighborhood groups. One of which is mine, which does not represent me or the majority of their members OR the 180,000 plus other residents who are NOT opposed to this variance.

        Second – again, the zoning rules have the provision of variances. That is the law and why it is in front of the City Council. The developer IS following the law. More than I can say for the Mayor.

        David, what bothers me is the small town thinking of the tiny but loud and pushy opponents and its reflective very poor job of the zoning of the district. Effort and participation is not the guarantee for a good product. As Paolino said, perhaps those folks should “move to the suburbs”.

        Where I fully agree is regarding the design of this tower. That is where the “rubber meets the road”. My hope is this is approved and we move to the design stage, so as to have a major league structure of fitting design for our historic and handsome Providence.

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        • By thousands, Steve, I mean the hundreds of citizens who participated in the charettes for the comprehensive plan over four years, and you could throw in the citizens who voted for the council members who approved the zoning plan in 2014 (I think it was).

          I’m not saying Fane is breaking the law (not that I know of) but he is perverting the intent of the law, including variances, which presumably is to carry out the vision of the public. This height request now before the council is not a variance from but a change in the height limit for Parcel 42. If one individual, a developer, can force through such a major change, that cancels out the role played by the public in developing the comprehensive and zoning plans.

          I think a medium-sized town that recognizes its strengths and builds upon them will also grow larger at a more natural pace, and much more pleasantly so than it would trying to become a much bigger city by embracing modernist design, planning for the sake of developers rather than for the public, development that could be in Anywhere, U.S.A., and big for the sake of big.

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  9. Eric Daum says:

    “The fact remains that if the council approves this major zoning change, it will effectively nullify all zoning regulations in the city… It would be a declaration by a developer that he doesn’t care about the law – and equally, by any council member who votes to approve this profanity, a declaration of the same.”

    Brilliantly and succinctly put, David. The crux of the matter. Do we live in a society governed by the rule of law, or do we live in a society where a wealthy developer can ignore or bypass that apply to the rest of us? It’s a sign of the times.

    Liked by 1 person

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