$54M Battle Over Crumbling ‘Superman Building’ Ends up in Court

By MICHELLE R. SMITH | May 2, 2017

A $54 million fight over Rhode Island’s tallest building is headed to court, as jury selection gets underway Tuesday in the legal wrangling between the building’s owner, High Rock Westminster Street, and its former tenant, Bank of America.

The skyscraper at the heart of downtown, known locally as the “Superman building” for its similarity to the Daily Planet headquarters in the old TV show, became vacant amid the state’s long economic slump and is still empty years later.

The building was the tallest skyscraper in New England when it opened in 1928 as the Industrial National Bank Building and became the most recognizable feature on the Providence skyline. By the time Bank of America moved out four years ago, the 428-foot-tall skyscraper had become a symbol of the state’s long economic decline.

High Rock says Bank of America took such bad care of the building over a period of years that the limestone facade is crumbling, among other problems. Bank of America says that it spent tens of millions of dollars on maintenance and repairs on the building during its lease, and contends High Rock decided to sue so that it could get the money it needs to convert the 26-story Art Deco-style building into apartments.

Lawyers for High Rock and Bank of America did not return messages seeking comment, but court filings detail their complaints against each other.

High Rock said in a complaint filed last week that Bank of America “chose to apply Band-Aid solutions” during the time it was leasing the building, even though it was supposed to keep it in good repair under the terms of the lease.

High Rock said the bank’s neglect had led to damages of $13.5 million to the facade, more than $10 million to the electrical system and $15.7 million to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The company has asked that damages for the facade be doubled, and also wants punitive damages and legal fees.

A filing from Bank of America said it spent $81 million on the building during the 10-year lease, including over $32 million on maintenance and repair projects, including improvements in the facade, HVAC and fire safety systems, as well as renovated restrooms and other improvements.

Lawyers in the case estimated the trial would take three to four weeks.

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