ARLENE VIOLET - Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a sinkhole!

ARLENE VIOLET - Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a sinkhole!

A sinkhole? That's right! Such is the request by the developer for $75 million to convert the "Superman" building into apartments and limited retail space. The present owner, High Rock Development, bought the building in 2008 for $33.2 million. Its chief occupant, Bank of America, vacated its space last month. Now the company is trying to get taxpayers to pony up subsidies so it isn't on the rocks. There is a legion of reasons why taxpayers should not be on the hook.

The most important reason is that as a matter of policy the public should not bail out someone who ultimately makes a bad business decision. Certainly, High Rock was rolling in rents for close to five years. Whether it paid too much for the building is open to analysis, but like any business owner, it should bear the brunt of its choices. There are many entrepreneurs reading this column who sink or swim resulting from their decisions and who would consider it anathema to ask others to bail them out.

Secondly, while there are studies (somewhat suspect in their conclusions but more about that later) that support the conversion to rental apartments, even if those projections are correct, what is the impact on landlords in the neighboring cities or towns? Would those renters in Pawtucket, East Providence, etc., quit their apartments to live downtown, leaving a surfeit of empty spaces in the environs?

Thirdly, who is to say that another entrepreneur wouldn't make an offer to buy the building for a discounted amount in order to implement its own plans? We have no idea who may be lurking in the wings to swoop in and get a bargain building. We will never know if we truss up the present owner. Further, when asked if it would sell the building after getting the tax breaks and $39 million in cash, High Rock's spokesperson said, "We have no intention of selling the building." The "no intention" comments are weasel words used by everyone to cloak the possibility of a sale. This was the same response given by the Providence Place owner, Dan Lugosch, who received mega-subsidies only to waltz off with mega millions in profits when he sold the development. What did the state of Rhode Island or Providence receive for the millions of dollars in tax breaks when the property sold? Right! Zero. Of course, the "study" commissioned by the developer mentions nothing about any shared revenues with the "benefactors-to-be," namely, the taxpayers.

The projections are also suspect in the report. It states that there are 10,800-plus-or-minus students who are seeking off-campus housing. Most of these students pool rents for apartments. There is no data to support the contention that they would move into 111 Westminster St. for rents ranging from $1,125 per month for a micro-studio to $2,750 per month for a three-bedroom, two-plus bath. The study also has not vetted the replacement costs of the internal columns and mechanical systems in the building. Further, it assumes that 55 years-plus people and professionals in their 30s are comfortable sharing turf with college students.

Failure to calculate the aforesaid true costs, the financial impact on neighboring landlords, the uncertainty of the "mix" and other matters should prevent the solons on Smith Hill from rushing into any deal before adjournment. They simply do not have enough time to evaluate all the contingencies. Taxpayers can only hope that they have been chastened by their 38 Studios blunder.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.