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Raimondo Disappointed By Lack Of Agreement On Fane Tower

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Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is expressing disappointment about the lack of progress for developer Jason Fane’s envisioned 46-story tower in the I-195 District.

“Governor Raimondo is disappointed that the developer and the mayor were unable to reach an agreement,” Raimondo spokesman Josh Block tells The Public’s Radio. “This is a major potential investment, and she encourages the mayor and City Council to keep working toward a solution.”

Block declined comment on whether Raimondo spoke with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza before he vetoed a zoning change last Friday that would have paved the way for Fane's controversial tower.

Talks between Fane and Elorza broke off after the veto.

“The developer made clear that they were not willing to address some of the mayor’s major concerns during conversations last week,” said Elorza spokeswoman Emily Crowell. “There are no conversations happening at this time.”

Meanwhile, Dante Bellini, a spokesman for Fane, said the developer is “waiting to see what City Council does. That’s it for now.”

Supporters say the Fane tower would be a vital source of investment and send a positive message about growth in Providence. Opponents cite a range of concerns, ranging from the height and design of the proposal to how it would affect a planned nearby park.

Ward 11 Councilor Mary Kay Harris (Upper South Providence, West End) has emerged as the swing vote on whether the council will override Elorza’s veto.

In a statement on Wednesday, she remained opaque about her thinking.

“Since last Friday, I have been inundated with calls, texts, and emails asking me where I stand on the issue of the Hope Point Tower,” Harris said. “Since this development was proposed, I have remained neutral and steadfast in my request to find out more information on the project and what it truly means for the City of Providence, and more specifically, for my neighbors in Ward 11.”

Harris continued, “Since even before taking office, my interests and goals for my community have focused on equitable housing, and how the Council as the legislative body of Providence can reduce the tax burden for our citizens. Since this project first came before the Committee on Ordinances, I have been talking with stakeholders, community members, advocates, and those opposed to this project to gain a fuller picture of how a development of this magnitude would help or hurt the city I love.”

The Fane proposal is not on the agenda for Thursday’s City Council meeting, the last regularly scheduled meeting of the year. But a special meeting could still be called before year’s end.

In his veto message last Friday, Elorza said Fane’s unwillingness to give the city final say over the tower’s design was the main reason why he voted the zoning change.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio reacted by expressing disappointment. Ruggerio also renewed his support for legislation that could potentially overcome obstacles to building the Fane tower.

Senate spokesman Greg Pare offered this explanation of how General Assembly legislation could potentially overcome opposition by Providence officials to building the tower: "The Senate’s attorneys are currently researching this issue. It would not entail an overturn of the mayor’s veto of the local ordinance. Rather, it would be an amendment to the state statute governing the authority of the I-195 Redevelopment Commission in order to grant the Commission additional authority in state law over zoning issues on the state-owned land they oversee. It is still in the process of being researched by our attorneys before the development of any legislation."

Meanwhile, a Providence Journal editorial on Thursday castigated the mayor’s decision -- and inflamed opponents of the tower.

“Mr. Elorza wanted the developer to give him — a politician with no knowledge of architecture — say over the building’s design, though the statute does not give the mayor that power,” reads the editorial, headlined, “Idiotic Veto Shows Need For Change. “The stupidity of this is hard to take for those of us who want to see Providence move forward. A short distance north, Boston is booming with new buildings.”

This story has been updated.

A rendering of the Fane tower
A rendering of the Fane tower