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TheStreet Open House

Rhode Island's Tallest Building Will Soon Go Dark

By MICHELLE R. SMITH

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) â¿¿ Rhode Island's tallest building will soon be its most visible symbol of the state's long economic decline.

The 26-story Art Deco-style skyscraper, known to some as the "Superman building" for its similarity to the Daily Planet headquarters in the old TV show, is losing its sole tenant this month. No one is moving in, and the building, the most distinctive feature on the Providence skyline, will no longer be fully illuminated at night, if at all, its owner says.

It's a blow for the city and the state, which had 9.4 percent unemployment in February and has had one of the worst jobless rates in the nation for years.

Nicolas Retsinas, a senior lecturer in real estate at Harvard Business School, says 111 Westminster, as the building is also known, will be "the ultimate urban pothole."

At 428 feet, or about one-third the height of the Empire State Building, it was the tallest skyscraper in New England when it opened in 1928 as the Industrial National Bank Building. It has housed a bank ever since.

That 85-year run will end when Bank of America ends its lease for the building's entire 380,000 square feet and completes its move into more modern space nearby in the coming days. The bank most recently occupied only about 20 percent of the building, says Bill Fischer, a spokesman for its owner, High Rock Development of Newton, Mass.

High Rock says it does not want to use it as offices. The building represents such a large share of downtown office space, Fischer says, that it would flood the market to do that.

Instead, High Rock wants to turn it into about 290 apartments. But the company has offered no timetable for the project or said how much it might cost. High Rock says it will need to persuade state lawmakers to revive a program that gives tax credits for rehabilitating historic buildings.

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