New talks on the Superman Building

Posted 8/25/21

The owner of the so-called Superman Building in downtown Providence is gearing up for another push to use public subsidies to revive the iconic structure. "We are of the understanding that they have a proposal that they're evolving that involves a

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New talks on the Superman Building


The owner of the so-called Superman Building in downtown Providence is gearing up for another push to use public subsidies to revive the iconic structure.

“We are of the understanding that they have a proposal that they’re evolving that involves a request for tens of millions of dollars in subsidy,” state Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said during an interview on Political Roundtable.

Pryor offered a degree of qualified support for the initiative, saying: “It will require that magnitude of subsidy in all likelihood to produce most forms of a new project in that building. What we need to do is see whether their expected returns are reasonable, whether the project they’re proposing is feasible and whether the ownership team/development team is capable of carrying it out.”

In 2016, the last big attempt to galvanize support for using public dollars to revive the Jazz Age building fell flat. But the Superman structure has been vacant for close to 10 years now, so people might be open to considering a new plan.

While Pryor rules out an office use – due to the global collapse in demand for office space – “There is good dialogue occurring with the university community about their needs for graduate housing and other forms of housing … There is demand in the residential market, so there may be some possibilities there that we can focus upon.”

In a statement, Bill Fischer, spokesman for Superman Building principal owner David Sweetser, said that Sweetser and his firm, High Rock Development, are pursuing discussions with Commerce “that will benefit Rhode Island’s economy, create jobs and provide much needed housing in Providence – including affordable housing. The project would literally add a neighborhood of approximately 450 residents downtown – adding vibrancy to the city’s core, preserving the acclaimed historic character of the capital city, as well as being transformational for Kennedy Plaza. The project would also include a designated public meeting space within the building’s grand banking hall. These discussions continue to evolve and we look forward to sharing our plans in greater detail in the near future.”

Goldin’s exit

The exit of Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence) for a job with the U.S. Labor Department in the Biden administration signals the start of a hard-fought Democratic primary race to succeed her.

The opening offers a felicitous opportunity for Hilary Levey Friedman, who had made clear her interest in running for something, and who promptly resigned her role as the head of RI NOW. Levey Friedman is known as an academic and author who has made a feminist case for beauty pageants.

The Rhode Island Political Cooperative, after making big gains in the state Senate in 2020, didn’t waste time in unveiling its own candidate: Geena Pham, who teaches high school English in Easton, Massachusetts, and according to the co-op, has already raised $5,000 (Levey Friedman had almost $27,000 in her campaign account at the end of Q2).

The special election to fill the seat vacated by Goldin is coming up fast, with the decisive primary set for Oct. 5 and the general election for Nov. 2.

Why RI isn’t losing representation

The latest Census numbers – which appear likely to increase the number of legislative seats in Central Falls and Providence – mostly continue a trend that has been ongoing for more than 20 years. Latinos are propelling population growth in Rhode Island, helping the state to avoid the loss of a congressional district and fueling greater diversity on the Providence City Council and in the General Assembly, particularly from districts representing the Blackstone Valley.

Get the scoop

There’s always a Rhode Island angle, right, but what about the hidden scoop? When the business section of the Sunday New York Times reported on the cutthroat world of $10 ice cream, it mentioned: “Thomas Bucci Jr., a fourth-generation ice cream maker whose Rhode Island factory ‘co-packs’ pints for Blue Marble and other brands.”

That company would be Warwick Ice Cream, which, coincidentally, was visited last week by Speaker Shekarchi. The visit was a Full Rhode Island, since it was done as part of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices, whose deputy national director, Jane Moffat, is married to former Gina Raimondo chief of staff Stephen Neuman (and Shekarchi, of course, managed Raimondo’s 2010 run for treasurer). And even 3-year-old Louis Neuman got a cameo.

Next move for Commerce chief

For now, Stefan Pryor is keeping his powder dry on an expected run for state general treasurer next year. (Incumbent Seth Magaziner can’t seek reelection due to term limits and is expected to run for governor.)

“Ha! I like the way you asked that question,” Pryor said when asked on Roundtable when he will announce his run. “… Of course, I’m giving it a close look.”

Rather than fleshing out his plans, the irrepressible Pryor remained very on-brand in sharing his upbeat assessment of Rhode Island’s economy and where things go from here. Asked about the familiar aspect of the state’s economic challenges – ranging from a lack of well-defined engines of growth, poor ratings in national business surveys, under-performing schools and persistent deficits – he cited a Moody’s indicator with a positive assessment and how construction/manufacturing employment matches pre-pandemic heights.

Pryor’s messaging was consistent with someone readying for 2022. If he does indeed run for treasurer, that suggests Pryor thinks he could become governor one day.

Backlash on license plate readers

Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based company, unveiled a pilot program to use license-plate readers in Cranston, Pawtucket and Woonsocket.

In a statement, the company said: “Flock Safety ALPR cameras help law enforcement investigate crime by providing objective evidence. They capture license plates and vehicle characteristics, not people or faces. The cameras also send real-time alerts to law enforcement when a stolen car, known wanted suspect from a state or national crime database, or vehicle associated with a missing person is detected.”

The RI ACLU quickly raised concerns, saying that police departments should not make unilateral decisions on the use of such technology: “The installation of surveillance tools that directly impact the privacy of Rhode Island residents and others driving through the communities where they are installed is disturbing in itself. But the clandestine nature by which the cameras were placed, and the failure of the three cities in which the trial implementation of this tool is known to be happening to seek any advance public input, only make this action more concerning.”

Back in 2017, Blake Filippi (R-New Shoreham), now the House GOP leader, sounded a sharp warning about a statewide license-plate reader plan pushed by then-Rep Robert Jacquard (D-Cranston): “Orwell’s ‘1984’ was a warning – not a guidebook. If we were to move toward some sort of surveillance state ... it would be through incremental things like this.”

Amore ready to launch

State Rep. Gregg Amore (D-East Providence), currently serving his fifth term, tentatively plans to announce his 2022 run for secretary of state on Sept. 15 at EP’s new high school. RI GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki tells me she’s still working on recruiting a candidate for the race.


Further evidence that former Gov. Gina Raimondo is living her best life in her newish gig (via Politico’s West Wing Playbook):

“Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO is steadily becoming one of the administration’s secret weapons on the Hill, particularly among Republicans and business-friendly Democrats. The former Democratic governor of Rhode Island emerged from the bipartisan infrastructure talks as a favorite of some of the Senate negotiators. And she’s expected to continue her lobbying of lawmakers on the House side as the chamber prepares to soon take up the narrow infrastructure bill and the budget resolution that will kickstart the reconciliation process.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column, visit www.thepublicsradio.org

politics, Donnis


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