JWU College of Arts & Sciences

Saving Superman: One Student's Plan for a Providence Landmark

Greg Miller standing in Burnside Park, downtown Providence

One of Providence's most iconic buildings has sat vacant since 2013. Rhode Island native Greg Miller '17 hated to see this staple of the city's skyline—located at 111 Westminster Street and affectionately dubbed “The Superman Building”—grow dark.

“Downcity felt more like a neighborhood when Bank of America [the most recent tenant of the building] was there,” Miller said. “After they left, there was a noticeable shift.”

This change in downtown Providence's dynamic became even more apparent to Miller when he enrolled in the Media & Communications Studies program at JWU's Providence Campus and lived on the Downcity campus.

“I just kept walking by this beautiful, empty building thinking ‘Why don't they just fill it up with college students?’ and then ‘Had that thought even crossed their minds?’” Miller said.

Voicing his concerns for his community
The “they” Miller is referring to included the building's chief developer Arnold “Buff” Chace. Miller drafted an extensive proposal to repurpose the iconic building, suggesting the space be turned into a co-operative educational center. Chace excitedly embraced Miller's idea.

“I had never had any interest in real estate development or anything like that before,” Miller said. “But this whole project happened so organically because of Johnson & Wales. [The university] forces you to be part of the community—in a good way! You get to know and recognize everyone, from politicians to other students, and it makes me really happy to be part of this city.”

Finding the right fit
While previous proposals to fill the vacant structure have fallen through, Miller argues that a joint venture involving JWU, Rhode Island School of Design, and Roger Williams University would fill the need for office, faculty and dormitory space for these institutions. 

And not only would the colleges and property owners benefit, but the neighborhood Miller has come to call home would as well. “In transforming this property from vacancy to an active integrated parcel, the surrounding neighborhood will receive an injection of activity...due to a larger student presence,” Miller writes in his proposal.

Since Miller drafted and submitted this proposal, he's worked to raise awareness about the fate of the building throughout the city. He's also reached out to the Providence Preservation Society, advocating that the building be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Officially known as the Industrial Trust Company Building, it has been listed on the Providence Preservation Society's Most Endangered Properties List twice.

“Even if the outcome of this proposal never comes to fruition,” Miller writes, “the very thought of daring the people of Rhode Island to think about it will secure the building's future. People will remember the Superman Building and want it to be saved.”

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Sun rises over Providence

Topics: Providence