2014-12-31 / Opinion

First and Last Impressions


No matter what people tell you about the importance of first impressions, there is also no denying the power of a strong, well-crafted ending.

We offer that observation as a precursor to the Newport Zoning Board of Review’s plan to issue a controversial decision on Monday, Jan. 5, which will impact the fate of the Preservation Society of Newport County’s proposed $4.2 million welcome center on its 13-acre site at The Breakers. The welcome center proposal is opposed by the Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association.

There’s nothing left to say about the pros and cons. But a different perspective might be to turn this discussion on its ear and consider amending the controversial welcome center to include a “thanks for coming” or “goodbye” center.

The City of Newport’s Gateway Center on America’s Cup Avenue already does a fine job greeting visitors, most of whom arrive in town via the Pell Bridge. At the same time, no one is disputing the fact that The Breakers itself may need a new or more effective method to receive guests at the property.

We took a stroll through The Breakers between Christmas and New Year’s Day and appreciated the late 19th century grandeur of the 70- room, Italian Renaissance-style mansion built by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

The magnificent rooms are a striking contrast to the tourists’ departure by way of narrow, dark brown stairs and a crowded gift shop leading to a side-door exit. Exiting guests then find themselves faceto face with a circular, seven-foot, round concrete-block wall. Inside this circular enclosure stand a red and white soft drink machine and two black plastic trash bins.

Able-bodied visitors ascend a worn wooden stairway to reach ground level and exit the property. Physically handicapped guests departing the basement must then find their way out via an alternate route.

If The Breakers is to be considered a “world class” destination, doesn’t it deserve a “world class” exit?

We think so.

Perhaps, then, you might agree that a more uplifting departure point from this otherwise splendid mansion is at least worth discussing. It could perhaps be sited on about the same footprint used now for shops and passage to the outdoors—and provide a departure way from The Breakers as spectacular as the rest of the property.

Just something to think about.

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