Paolino Seeks Tax Reduction On Fleet Building, Citing Conditions In Kennedy Plaza

Sep 5, 2017

A bus passes through Kennedy Plaza in front of the former Fleet Bank building.
Credit RIPR file photo

Update: The Providence board of Tax Assessment Review today denied Paolino's appeal. Next stop, says Paolino: Superior Court.

Joseph R. Paolino Jr, the former  Providence mayor and large downtown property owner, is seeking a tax reduction on the former Fleet Bank building at 50 Kennedy Plaza because of the presence of panhandlers and incidences of petty crime in the area.

In documents filed with the city Board of Tax Assessment Review, Paolino asserts that tenants and prospective tenants "like the environment” inside the building, “but they are appalled at the area surrounding the building. Crime, drug pushers and users, panhandlers and people who come to hang out on Kennedy Plaza create a negative and often threatening environment.’’

Paolino said Nortek moved out of the building because of conditions on Kennedy Plaza. “With many prominent businesses in this building having clients who come from other major U.S. cities, they don’t want these clients to be approached for money, walk through clouds of smoke or around vomit, step over people passed out or sleeping on sidewalks, or accosted or physically threatened.’’

Paolino also cited the presence of the vacant “Superman Building,” known formally as the Industrial Trust Tower, next door as another factor depressing the market for rents and property values in the area.

Dave Quinn, Providence tax assessor, rejected Paolino’s request for a drop in the tax assessment, which is currently $59,593,700. City records show the building yielded property taxes of $2, 187,088 in 2016. Property taxes are based on the assessed value of real estate.

Quinn said his decision was based on traditional measures used by tax assessors, such as the income the building brings in from rents and leases. He said the assessment is in line with other buildings nearby. Quinn also said that it is not possible to determine what Paolino paid for the building because the sale was structured legally to shield the cost from the public.

Paolino said he's willing to accept the previous assessment of about $53 million, but he said the city doesn't have evidence to support raising the assessment to $59 million.

According to Paolino, there are none of the traditional tax stamps that demark the value of a sale because he bought other assets affiliated with the building, meaning there was no legal requirement to disclose the sale price.  Paolino, who purchased the building in 2014, said he has spent money investing in upgrading the former Fleet building, which he described as having been neglected before his ownership. He declined to say how much he has invested.

Paolino has long been a critic of the conditions of Kennedy Plaza and adjoining Burnside Park. He went to the city council and successfully lobbied for a downtown smoking ban in the area, despite opposition from Mayor Jorge Elorza. Elorza and other business and non-profit leaders have been sprucing up the plaza and shifting bus services away from the area.

Paolino’s appeal to the review board is scheduled to be heard on Friday, September 8, at the Providence Water Supply Board headquarters on Academy Avenue at 9:30. Paolino can appeal a decision from the tax review board to Rhode Island Superior Court.

“I think we have a legitimate argument,” said Paolino in an interview.