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Potential Superman Building Anchor — Samsonite HQ — Has Fallen Through

Sunday, July 22, 2018

 

Superman Building - vacant since 2013

Samsonite’s American headquarters has been in discussion for more than a year with state officials and the private developer to serve as the anchor tenant in the vacant Superman building in downtown Providence, but those discussions have collapsed.

According to multiple sources, Samsonite — the global luggage company now with its world headquarters in Hong Kong, was considering leasing upwards of 60,000 square feet in the historic building for both retail and office space.

The company is the “worldwide leader in superior travel bags, luggage, and accessories combining notable style with the latest design technology and the utmost attention to quality and durability.”

The company markets many of the best-known names in luggage including, Samsonite, Tumi, American Tourister, and Hartmann. Sol Koffler founded American Luggage Works in Providence, Rhode Island in 1933 -- the American Tourister brand. The company was sold to Samsonite in 1993.

Presently, the de facto U.S. headquarters for the company is located in Mansfield, MA, but up until 2008, it was located in Warren, RI.

Commerce RI officials could not be reached for comment.

Samsonite looked to be the potential anchor tenant

CEO Resignation a Factor?

According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations in Rhode Island, the collapse of the potential deal followed the controversial resignation of the Chief Executive Officer of the company due to a false claim on his resume and an attack by an investor group.

According to the Washington Post, “Ramesh Tainwala, Samsonite’s CEO since 2014, stepped down from his role Friday, citing personal reasons, according to a company news release. On May 24, the short-seller Blue Orca Capital published a report claiming Tainwala had long described himself as a doctor with a degree in business administration — despite never completing the program.”

“Blue Orca Capital, a new firm led by renowned short seller Soren Aandahl, made the claims against Tainwala in a report published on its website that also accused Samsonite of using questionable accounting techniques to massage earnings and inflate its profit margins,” reports CNN/Money.

Samsonite's Hong Kong store

Another Disappointment

For Commerce RI officials, the collapse of the Samsonite deal is a major disappointment. Both PayPal and Citizens Bank are other leading companies that looked at the abandoned bank building but concluded that the space was too expensive or too outdated for their intended use.

Is Hasbro Still an Option?

In September of 2017, GoLocal was first to report that, “GoLocal has learned from multiple sources close to the process, that Hasbro  — the global entertainment and toy company —  is looking to consolidate its multiple locations in the region and create a next-generation creative campus for its headquarters in Providence. Some of the options that Hasbro is considering include the Superman Building.”

Hasbro later publicly confirmed the report.

In December of 2017, GoLocal exclusively reported “GoLocal learned that a plan by two real estate mega-forces, Providence developer Joe Paolino of Paolino Properties and Bob Gilbane of Gilbane Development, is emerging that would build an approximately 36 story tower at the location of the now vacant Superman Building. 

"The new structure is being pitched to Hasbro for its new consolidated headquarters. The Paolino and Gilbane plan is just one of a number of plans submitted, but the only one that includes the demolition of the Superman building. Some of the other proposed offered for Hasbro's consideration include building a campus for Hasbro on 195 lands. Other potential developers include Procaccianti Companies who 'has owned, developed or managed millions of square feet of real estate.' The company owns the Renaissance Hotel in Providence to name just one of its holdings.”

But since the spring of 2018, Hasbro officials have refused to comment on their plans for the development of a new Providence campus.

Multiple other sites are reportedly under consideration including the site of the old Providence Police Station along I-95 and presently a surface parking lot.

 

Related Slideshow: Leaders and Experts React To Hasbro Tower Proposal and Demolition of Superman Building

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Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello

This space is very important to the continued growth and development of the economy in our state and city.  I always appreciate economic development proposals, and should this one advance further, I look forward to reviewing and analyzing it closely.

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Will Morgan, Leading Architectural Critic

The proposed 36-story glass box for Hasbro on the site of the Industrial Trust Building is a terrible idea on so many levels.

As is all too typical in contemporary Providence, this idea is only about Property Development–only about dollars, square footage, trashing history for a quick profit. Where is the discussion of architecture, of inspired city planning, of encouraging innovative design, of enriching the city’s spirit?

Imagination is also lacking in the assumption that the so-called Superman Building cannot be saved. What a tired litany! Too many cities have lost major landmarks that defined them because they lacked the will and the imagination to take on the challenge of rehabilitating an outstanding work of architecture. We can no longer call ourselves the “Creative Capital” if we are unwilling to expend the creative capital to save that treasure.

If Providence really wants to attract people and companies, then it needs to ditch its tired let’s-build-it-and-aesthetics-and-good-planning-be-damned philosophy. A truly smart city would see that rehabilitating the Industrial Trust and combining it with first-rate design is not only possible but to be expected.

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Senate President Dominick Ruggerio

I welcome news of this potential major investment in downtown Providence, and look forward to learning more about the proposal.

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Bradley P. Dorman, Managing Partner, WhaleRock Point Partners, LLC

We would be 100% behind the Hasbro deal. It would reinvigorate the downtown community so I am all for it. Great for RI!!

 

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U.S. Senate Candidate Bob Flanders

I think this would be an exciting development for Providence and the state if this were to happen. The Superman building is irreversibly outdated and, given the impractical high cost of trying to modernize such a structure, it needs to be demolished, in my opinion. If this project were to proceed, then it would convert what is now a white elephant into a modern facility housing one of RI's iconic businesses. More importantly, it would catalyze further development and business activity in Providence's downtown area, reversing a long slide and lamentable hollowing out of our central commercial district.

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David Brussat, Architectural Critic

Paolino’s proposal makes perfect sense in the context of Providence’s recent development history. The policy of the current and recent mayors seems to be this: Tear down everything that represents the city’s venerable brand and replace it with anything that can be relied upon to weaken its brand.

Hey! Sounds like a plan! This plan has a pedigree that reaches back to the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

For those shaking their heads in wonder, yes, Providence has already traveled down that road. The Downtown Providence 1970 Plan, announced in 1960, proposed demolishing the city’s beauty and replacing it with ugliness. Pure urban removal. Fortunately, only Cathedral Square and Westminster Mall were built. The former, though the brainchild of modernist icon I.M. Pei, remains dead space. As for the latter, Paolino himself deserves a lot of credit, as mayor in the 1980s, for removing the failed pedestrian mall, which was just as ugly as Cathedral Square, and replacing it with a street that can sit alongside many of Europe’s finest for beauty and civility.
 

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House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, Candidate for Governor

I love the fact that we have preserved so many of the architectural treasures of our state’s history. It makes our cities unique, beautiful and livable. So it’s not easy to say, tear down the old Industrial Trust Building. Rhode Islanders have good memories of the “Superman Building’ in its glory days. Filled with workers, it was an economic engine for our state. Its beacon proclaimed its financial clout across the horizon. Sadly, it has been empty for 4 years now, and instead of delivering economic vitality, it is a drag on downtown Providence. My understanding is, that the interior, designed 90 years ago, is no longer conducive to the work environments that are needed by today’s companies. It would be extraordinarily expense to renovate the building to today’s standards.

Having Hasbro fill the void would be a strong stimulus for a beleaguered downtown district and the commerce it spurs in the area just from being filled again with employees and visitors would undoubtedly lead to additional jobs in the surrounding area. I think it’s great news that two real estate powerhouses, Gilbane Development and Paolino Properties, have been diligently working to find a path towards that goal. And that other developers are also interested. Whether they restore the existing building, which given the challenges seems unlikely, or demolish it and build a new building, it can only be a positive improvement for Providence. I am thankful that Hasbro’s commitment to Rhode Island is so strong. It really is commendable.

 

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Providence Preservation Society

Whether the Industrial Trust Building has monetary value *may* be up for debate, but it is undeniable that it is among the most valuable buildings in Downtown Providence for MANY other reasons, among them embodied energy, craftsmanship, high quality materials, architectural beauty and interest, etc. Let's get Hasbro to build in downtown Providence, but let's use some of the parking lots that we have so many of...and build parking into the building. That's what cities do when they improve. Not tear down icons. We call on Jorge Elorza and Gina Raimondo to help find a suitable place for Hasbro in our Downtown.
 

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Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst of Business Innovation Factory

I like the sound of Hasbro Tower. Don’t look now, but Rhode Island may be starting to believe in itself! A new Hasbro headquarters downtown is a game changer which will help transform Rhode Island’s skyline and economy. It’s wonderful to see local companies like Hasbro and CVS Health playing offense and positioned as the innovators reshaping their industries. 

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Aaron Renn, Urbanist at the Manhattan Institute

The Superman Building is clearly a challenging situation for Providence. But it's also a signature historic structure that can never be recreated if lost. Historic architecture is part of what gives Providence its unique character. Given the availability of other sites for any Hasbro HQ, it's not clear why demolition is a card the city needs to play. I would prefer to see the Superman building mothballed until redevelopment makes sense, though I recognize that there may be limits to what can be done to save it.
 

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Bob Burke, Owner of Pot Au Feu Restaurant

Let’s play a little Monopoly - Downtown Providence Edition.

As a lover of our iconic architecture, it would be great to see the new building built on the parking lot site where 110 Westminster was going to be built. The engineering work worth millions has been done and millions in demo cost tearing down Superman would be saved. 

Superman would then be viable as a micro residence site for workers attracted by the creative power of Hasbro - that’s a win-win-win.

Monopoly Downtown - it’s all about landing on the right spot.

 


 

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Ray Rickman, Founder of Stages of Freedom

That building is a symbol of Providence -- in spite of all its problems, it's enormously elegant, it's the skyline.  I'm slow to think it should come down.

Having said that, I saw the rendering (which remember are usually 50% better than how they'll look), it looks glamorous, and would create a whole new skyline. Sometimes you have to move forward. 

So at first blush I'm opposed, but if it's not going to cost the public -- and it's truly a private development -- and it could be, this isn't being done on spec -- I'm not opposed to considering it. 
 

 
 

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