Blue Cross Blue Shield Headquarters

A new 13-story office tower headquarters for BCBS Rhode Island built in 2008

About this Property

#Proposal

A new office tower for BCBS RI would allow the company to consolidate spaces from around the city. Previously, employees were located in five locations — one on Empire Street which BCBS owned and others in which they rented — plus the original BCBS headquarters at LaSalle Square (built in 1987). Berkeley Investments purchased the LaSalle Square and Empire Street properties from BCBS in mid-2008. The sale of their former property and the cost-savings from consolidating their workforce made the move to a new tower cost effective.

State officials, however, thought that the move looked like they were unwisely spending their customer’s money. Governor Carcieri said, “It is not clear at this time that the construction of a Class A office building in one of the most expensive locations in Rhode Island comports with Blue Cross’ responsibility to provide affordable health insurance.” Blue Cross CEO Keough countered by saying that Blue Cross will not have to dig into its reserves or pass on costs to subscribers to pay for the project.1

The State was also negotiating with BCBSRI to be the provider of state worker’s healthcare. United Healthcare (located out of state) made $38 million a year from their state contract previously. It is better to keep that money in-state, but at the same time, in 2008-2010 mind you, in-state reimbursement rates were dismal and hospitals and healthcare providers were hurting.

The State could have been a little sore that a $25-million tax deal negotiated with Intercontinental Development for their Waterplace projects ended up benefitting BCBSRI. The one-of-a-kind tax plan negotiated in 2004 had no restrictions on it. Carcieri would have rather had an out of state company relocate here to expand the tax base, instead of an already in-state company make a lateral move.2 This was short-sighted, in our opinion, considering that the Class B office space BCBSRI vacated would be on the market for smaller in- or out-of-state companies that are growing.

BCBSRI took over the parcel and the foundation that Waterplace developers started for a 10-story tower. The architects did extra work to ensure that the 13-story BCBSRI tower would be safe on a foundation rated for only 10 stories.

Design features

1100 employees a few hundred feet from the Commuter rail was a smart and green move on the part of BCBS. The building was constructed with only 180 parking spaces for cars and some for bikes, so clearly the company was ready to leverage existing parking around them as well as commuter options.

  • 327,000 square-foot of space
  • Abundant natural light — over 90% of workspaces enjoy outside views through the floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall facades
  • Energy use reduced by more than 21% over code, as verified by a third-party review of the building’s systems
  • A decreased reliance on HVAC systems due to building envelope technology and interior layout
  • Water savings are 30% over a conventional building — rainwater is captured and recycled for use in cooling towers

From a project case study on the architect’s website.

#Design Reception

As a new glassy tower goes, the design does not wow us nor does it disgust us. Its nice enough and it contrasts the two Waterplace towers (which we don’t like as much). Our local architecture critic David Brussart had the usual to say, dubbing it and its neighbors “the ice cube and co-op city,” but that reaction is not a surprise. In response to the active bloggers on UrbanPlanet.org at the time, Mr. Brussart said “I enjoyed the angst of local modern-architecture bloggers who worry that this interesting wrinkle would be hidden from view by the condo towers.”3

A good synopsis of our stance on this matter was stated by a user named Griswold on the UrbanPlanet thread (edited and emphasis ours):

[… It] really bothers me that so many people in Providence want every new building to be “traditional” and “fit in” with the historic buildings. I love historic architecture. I love the Downcity commercial district. But what so many people don’t seem to understand is that creating “historic-looking or traditional-looking” architecture is FAKE!! There’s a big difference between designing new buildings to FIT IN with their surroundings, and designing new buildings to look like they might have been built 100 years ago. In 100 years, the only way people will be able to differentiate between the buildings designed in the 1800s-early 1900s and the ones currently being designed to look like they’re that old, is that the current buildings will have crumbled because of cheap materials. [… We] need designs that reflect the times during which they were created. If architecture is a reflection of history, then what will people in the future say about our society? “Well it looks like between 1990 and 2010, everyone was trying to re-create history, rather than build a new reality…” We have all these amazing technological advancements in the way we can build, yet we rarely take advantage of them in our designs.4

#In the News

New Blue Cross plan has all 1,100 employees fully covered

by Daniel Barbarisi
Providence Journal | April 25, 2007

The proposed Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island headquarters envisioned for Capital Center got its first public viewing yesterday morning, and for the most part, city planners liked what they saw.

The 13-story, 325,000-square-foot building would rise 237 feet above the ground, wedged into the corner of Park Row and Exchange Street, atop a parking garage currently under construction to serve two residential towers being built by Boston-based Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation.

The insurer has 1,100 employees in Providence, currently scattered across six locations, two owned, four rented. The company plans to sell the two buildings it owns for $20 million and put the proceeds toward the cost of constructing the $114-million building. Blue Cross hopes to start construction on the building late this year and occupy the site in early 2010.

Blue Cross’ architects showed renderings of the building to the city’s Capital Center Commission yesterday morning. As currently envisioned, the broad building would occupy the northeast corner of its lot, with entrances at the northeast and southwest.

Its exterior would be a combination of glass and an undecided material, with detailing to make the building seem less massive than it actually is.

There would be a walk-in customer service center in the lobby, and another retail location on the ground floor — probably an eatery, such as a coffee shop.

Blue Cross is seeking height variances from the commission, as the building is much taller than the roughly 160-foot height restrictions on the site. The building’s highest point, its mechanical towers, rise to 237 feet, and would also require a zoning variance to get around the city’s 200-foot height limit. The majority of the structure, however, is only 196 feet high.

Glenn Kumekawa, a member of the commission’s Design Review Committee, said that the building relates well to the two Intercontinental residential towers, but not to the rest of Capital Center, particularly the low-slung Fidelity office building next door and the Amtrak Station.

To committee member Derek Bradford, the building wasn’t bad — but it could be much more striking.

Bradford said he hoped to see the designers create a building that is “much more animated, much more playful architecture. I’d encourage you to be much more playful, much more fun with this building. Let’s not be so deadly serious about it.”

Commission members also questioned the design of the north face of the building, saying it effectively looked like a wall when viewed from the State House.

But as a whole, the commission was positive about the building, and encouraged the insurer to come back with minor changes, not a wholesale rethinking. It will return before the commission several times before a vote on approval.

The project will receive more than $25 million in tax breaks from the city, thanks to a unique tax plan negotiated in 2004 with Intercontinental when the developer signed its long-term lease on the two-acre Capital Center parcel, Blue Cross officials said.

That deal set up the terms for future tax breaks at the Capital Center site without specifying what kind of development was planned. Normally, tax breaks are given only to specific projects.

Governor Carcieri has expressed reservations about the building, and whether erecting a $114-million structure on some of the state’s priciest real estate is the best use of resources for a publicly chartered company that has had image issues in the past.

While the governor may have concerns about the location, urban growth advocates were pleased with the site.

“If Blue Cross had to move to another location in Providence, it’s about as good a location as you could find, from our point of view,” said Scott Wolf, executive director of Grow Smart RI.

Keeping Blue Cross close to central train and bus stations, and keeping workers in the city center, will help Providence in the long term, he said.

“This is the kind of the opportunity I think the city and the state need to seize. I think it’s better to have 1,100 office workers in that site rather than having another residential tower,” he said.

The departure of Blue Cross from La Salle Square would open up two major office buildings in a two-block area, at 15 La Salle Square and at 1 Empire St. This is in exactly the same area where the Cranston-based Procaccianti Group is trying to create a “power block,” through projects at the nearby former public safety complex, the John E. Fogarty Memorial Building, and at the newly opened Hilton Hotel.

Tom Niles, executive vice president for development at Procaccianti, said that the departure of Blue Cross does not change their plans for La Salle Square, because as prime office space, those buildings should fill up again quickly, and the area will remain prominent.

“I can’t imagine that that won’t be appealing to a range of users,” Niles said. “It’ll probably stay full for a long time.”

Niles said that his company has never discussed the possibility of purchasing either of the buildings.

Captured from an Archive.org version of http://www.projo.com/news/content/BLUECROSSHQ25_04-25-07_9C5CADA.330e1b2.html

  1. “State official urges Blue Cross to seek cheaper office space”, Providence Journal, April 19, 2007, from http://www.projo.com/news/content/BLUE_FOL…NP.33a3c97.html but not captured and not present at Archive.org 

  2. “City considers pulling plug on tax treaty for Blue Cross’, Daniel Barbarisi, Providence Journal, October 3, 2007. Captured from http://www.projo.com/ri/providence/content/MC_BLUECROSS_10-03-07_OF7BP4C.366ef14.html archived at Archive.org 

  3. A copy was not captured but original article was located at http://www.projo.com/opinion/columnists/content/CL_brussat3_05-03-07_CB5EMPN.1f086d4.html 

  4. From https://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/topic/37591-in-progress-blue-cross-headquarters/page/4/?tab=comments#comment-764896