Definitely No Taxpayer “Bridge Financing” – Or Any Other Tax Dollar Involvement – for Superman Building


An editorial in yesterday’s ProJo mentions an interesting and disturbing prospect that I at least had not yet heard about: taxpayer funded “bridge financing” for the Superman Building. (Tolls on “bridges”; now the possibility of “bridge” financing for an empty building. How did bridges suddenly become a new peril for state taxpayers and residents?)

The editorial also identifies the $64 million question that needs to be answered.

It is not the taxpayers’ business to make High Rock whole on a bad investment. But there is public interest in seeing activity there rather than vacancy and slow deterioration. For example, turning the Superman into a classy downtown apartment building with magnificent views of the city and the water would breathe economic life into the downtown, since new residents would dine out, shop and pay taxes.

The question is: How much is this activity worth to the taxpayers?

The latest estimates to rehab the Superman Building are in the $60-100 million range, though this GoLocalProv story from three years ago mentions the even more insane figures of $140 to $145 million.

To answer the ProJo’s question – “How much is this activity worth to the taxpayers?” – there simply is no amount of secondary/related economic activity that could come close to justifying any taxpayer involvement in such an exorbitantly expensive real estate rehabilitation project. Any official who proposes to do so must satisfactorily answer every entirely valid question posed by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity three years ago.

Elected officials would be wise to instead address the conditions that have contributed to the dearth of business tenants that financially imperil this building, and almost certainly others: the state’s business-repulsive tax and regulatory climate. Taxpayers cannot possibly “bridge” the financial chasms, either at 111 Westminster Street in Providence or everywhere else around the state, created by state officials’ continued refusal to do so.

  • Mike678

    If the businesses will gain, then let the business community get together and subsidize the building.

  • oceanstater

    The Progressive Democrats also singled out this building for special opposition to any subsidies.
    As someone who grew up elsewhere as a city kid who liked streetlife, urban excitement, good public transport, classical city architecture, I think this is an example of Rhode Island’s suburban anti-city orientation that cuts across political lines. In contrast, few complain about public subsidies for sprawl such as building a new interchange on I-295 and sewer extensions to enable Citizens Bank to transfer many employees to a new “campus” in the Johnston woods. At the least, the Superman Building ought to be as eligible for historic tax credits and tax “treaties” as any project, though I think it deserves special attention due to its architectural beauty and potential to help revive the center of our capital city.