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Developer Blue Chip Properties Moving Forward on a 206 room W Hotel with 76 Condominiums
 in Providence, Rhode Island; $160 million Project to be 38 Stories High

By Daniel Barbarisi, The Providence Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 22, 2007 - PROVIDENCE -- The identity of the hotel that will occupy a portion of the long-delayed 110 Westminster condominium and hotel project has been unveiled.

Development officials announced that the boutique W Hotel chain will occupy the tower's lower 24 floors.

The hotel has been rumored to be a W for some time, but neither the hotel nor the developer would confirm it. The details of the W's arrival, however, were on the agenda at the state Economic Development Corporation meeting yesterday.

The project came before the EDC to request a $1.5-million state tax abatement on construction materials and other goods yesterday, under a job-creation program administered by the EDC. The agency granted the tax break, which must also be approved by the General Assembly.

The tower was first announced in February 2005 as a 32-story, 130-condo development costing $90 million. Its original completion date was late this year.

After several redesigns and the addition of the hotel, the project is now 38 stories high, with 206 hotel rooms and 76 condominiums, and a total cost of $160 million. In the best of scenarios, it won't be finished until late 2009.

The developer, Blue Chip Properties, cleared the site, but then work halted.

Blue Chip has said that the delays came from redesign work to incorporate a hotel, which would allow the project to survive in the weak housing market. The empty site on Westminster Street was a constant reminder to many that the project had not yet moved.

"We apologize for leaving a hole in the city for the past year, but it's been a difficult market," said Jeremiah "Jerry" O'Connor III, a partner in the development.

The addition of W, a Starwood Hotel luxury brand with 21 properties nationwide, should help the project move forward, O'Connor said. Now, he said, they expect a summer start of construction, and a 28-month buildout.

The hotel will occupy the lower 24 floors and boast a 5,000-square-foot ballroom, a full-service spa, pool and fitness center, and three restaurants, O'Connor said. There is no word yet on what brands the restaurants will be. There will be a total of 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

Condominiums are planned for floors 25 to 38. They will be priced from $500,000 to $2.5 million.

There will be a link built to the Arcade, and to the Turks Head Building, and both will use the hotel's loading dock for their operations.

But the exterior design of the building will not change from the original plans -- with the exception of a giant letter "W" high on the hotel's exterior.

The hotel is expected to cater to the business travel and meeting markets, and to take advantage of the proximity of the colleges and the medical community, O'Connor said.

W's parent, Starwood, did not return calls seeking comment.

The project will have only 140 parking spaces, enough for the residential component and a few top hotel administrators.

This worried some at the EDC.

"There's always been a concern with long-term parking in Providence," said Keith Stokes, an EDC board member. "I'm concerned that you're not building that in."

O'Connor responded that they have made a deal with the Pine Street Garage to rent the remainder of the spaces they will need.

Governor Carcieri, who attended yesterday's EDC meeting, said he was aware that this will still strain parking in the area and highlights the need for more parking downtown.

"It's a serious issue. Parking is bad and going to get worse," he said. "Everybody's sort of pointing at this; we need more parking downtown."

The hotel project qualifies for the recently redesigned "Project Status" program because this project should hire at least 100 full-time employees, and should create enough sales tax and personal-income tax revenue for the state that it outweighs the cost of the tax abatement within three years, said EDC chief Saul Kaplan.

The project is expected to create 274 hotel jobs, and $40 million in construction payroll. The mean wage of the jobs is estimated at $32,250.

The EDC granted similar tax breaks on materials to the A. Duie Pyle Inc. distribution facility in Johnston and to the Hopkinton Industrial Park project in Hopkinton. Both projects still require approval from the General Assembly, and are expected to come before the legislature this week. The Westminster condo and hotel project has yet to be scheduled before the legislature.

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To see more of the The Providence Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.projo.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Providence Journal, R.I.

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