2014-10-23 / Opinion

The Breakers Luncheonette

To the Editor:

I am writing to respond to the Preservation Society’s nearly full page ad of Oct. 16 asserting that the welcome center would not be a restaurant. It is totally disingenuous. The luncheonette, or restaurant, call it what you will, at The Breakers is expected, by the Society’s own estimates, to serve between 50,000 to 70,000 lunches each season. The luncheonettes located at the Elms and Marble House, all part of the Society’s 250 seat chain of at least three cafes, would serve many thousands more. All other museums in Newport would have the right to also build “welcome centers” primarily to serve food to the public, no matter whether they are located in residential zoned districts or not. Any full service restaurant in Newport would kill to have these thousands of customers bused to their door, particularly if they had the additional unique legal right to operate a totally tax free restaurant in a historic residential district. These are competitive advantages afforded no other Newport restaurant or luncheonette.

In the case of The Breakers, the food will be made off site. It is unlikely the lunches will even be made on our island, taking dozens more jobs from Newporters. Thousands of lunches will be served to bus and cruise ship passengers who will get the ability to never set foot in Newport except to tour the Society’s mansions, and then promptly leave Newport. That is precisely how the Society’s marketing strategy targeted its high volume customers in the travel industry when they were illegally selling lunches at the Elms and Marble House.

Hot food versus cold food and reservations or not is another distraction. Because after The Breakers, Elms and Marble House luncheonettes close for the evening they can and certainly will re-open, now operating under a special event license, to be the basis for corporate events. The availability of permanent year-round weather proof buildings will maximize this opportunity. The caterers will be able to serve all the hot food, wine and liquor their customers could possibly want. That is another reason that two-thirds of the space in the welcome center is devoted to the luncheonette, making it obviously the primary if not sole use of the building.

The opportunity to operate tax exempt luncheonettes on Bellevue and the potential destruction of this unique neighborhood is the issue. The zoning ordinance clearly forbids this activity and has always done so. Special pleading of hot versus cold food, prepared on site or in Attleboro, seating before or after buying a ticket does not change this unalterable fact.

James Moore

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