Given that debacle, it is unclear whether lawmakers have the appetite to grant what could be tens of millions of dollars in tax credits to get the Superman building back up and running, even given its significance to the state.

Brown University sits atop the city's College Hill and overlooks the skyscraper. Mike McCormack, an architect and assistant vice president for planning at the Ivy League school, says downtown is filled with beautiful, historic buildings, but the city needs to figure out how to "reoccupy" it.

"There needs to be life on the street. People have to walk around and feel like there's energy," he says. "Then it encourages investment, it encourages entrepreneurs."

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