For more than a year, an expanse of concrete and weeds has lingered between the Arcade and the Turks Head Building in Providence’s historic Financial District. This empty lot used to house the Providence National Bank, a Colonial Revival-style building erected in 1929. It was demolished about 18 months ago to make way for One Ten Westminster, a planned luxury residential tower — it was announced more than two-and-a-half years ago — for which construction has yet to begin.
A project of BlueChip Properties, LLC, of Boston and Granoff Associates of Rhode Island, One Ten Westminster is touted as what will be the tallest building in the state, with 32 stories and an 80-foot spire reaching a total 520 feet. Its luxury condominiums will sell for between $500,000 and $2.5 million.
Construction was set to begin this past spring, but was pushed back because of “economics,” according to Thomas E. Deller, Providence’s director of planning & development, who cites iron and steel prices and design issues. The developers and the planning office have yet to settle on a date to break ground, and Deller is reluctant to offer a fresh estimate. “Every time I’ve set a date in the past I was wrong,” he says, “so I’d prefer not to try.”
BlueChip and Granoff Associates may have initially overestimated the extent to which advance sales would finance the privately financed project. Last fall, they announced that a hotel would occupy the bottom half of the building, bolstering their investment and reducing the financial risk of the $90 million venture. Rumors suggested that W Hotels, an upscale international chain, has signed a deal, although the developers have yet to make an announcement.
Project supporters and like-minded developers suggest that downtown Providence remains ripe for a luxury boom. Just a few blocks down from 110 Westminster, clothing and design boutiques have cropped up, along with a growing number of residents. The city has already seen other condo projects ascend skyward, including Boston-based Intercontinental Real Estate’s two-building complex at Waterplace Park and the Cranston-based Procaccianti Group’s new tower at the Westin.
But some signs indicate that this new development might be getting ahead of itself. Housing in Rhode Island is already too expensive for many to afford; HousingWorksRI, an affordable-housing advocacy group, reports that that the income required to purchase a home at the statewide median price is $90,491. The median household income for the state is just $47,037, according to 2004 Census data.
To make matters worse, the national housing market has entered crisis mode, with property values down, foreclosures up, and interest rates on the rise. Because lenders are less willing to finance sizeable loans, the sub-prime mortgage fiasco has even hurt the high-end housing market, where sales are down all over the country.
Still, says Deller, Providence is ready for upscale real estate like One Ten Westminster. “We need a spectrum of housing opportunities,” he says. “We want to have a cross-section of people to keep the city diverse and exciting.” Despite the market slump, he remains optimistic about downtown development and the future of the Westminster project: “The units are moving slowly, but they’re moving.”
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  Topics: This Just In , Business, Real Estate, Thomas Deller
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