2015-01-22 / Front Page

Public Weighs Fort Plans

By Barry Bridges

At a special workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 21, Newport city councilors received community input regarding a proposal to relocate Yachting Center music performances to Fort Adams.

Newport Waterfront Events (NWE) President and CEO Michele Maker Palmieri began the evening with a presentation to the council and standing-room-only crowd, where she reviewed the parameters of the proposal and addressed objections that have surfaced since the plans were announced.

A total of 12 concerts would be staged by NWE in May and June of 2015 as part of a two-month pilot program. Attendance would be limited to 2,500 at each event. Palmieri discussed how her team would meet logistics and transportation challenges, and emphasized that downtown concerts and music festivals had an economic impact of over $11.3 million in 2013. She also described the results of sound tests that were performed on Jan. 13.

Third Ward representative Kathryn Leonard took the lead in questioning from the council, and expressed her doubts about several aspects of the plan. She argued that NWE had done a lackluster job in reaching out to the surrounding residential neighborhood and was con- cerned that the historic nature of Fort Adams could be compromised.

“This is a historic site, a publiclyowned facility,” she said. “Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t see how the Fort Adams Trust’s mission of preservation and education is furthered by renting out the venue to a private corporation.”

A significant part of the meeting was reserved for public comments, and Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano alternated in calling supporters and detractors to the podium.

Among those speaking in favor of the project was Newport business owner Jeff Marlowe. “As a businessman, I think it’s important for the council to weigh all considerations,” he said. “Keep in mind that the number one industry in Newport is tourism.”

Melissa Hutchinson, executive director of the Ft. Adams Trust, stated that NWE had addressed all concerns that had been raised and further reported that the trust’s board of directors had voted unanimously to support the proposal.

Tom Sullivan of 33 Chapel Street observed, “I’m hearing the word ‘historic’ a lot, but history has to start somewhere. Newport needs revenue, so look at this as the start of a new history.”

Several opponents referenced NWE’s record at its former home at the Yachting Center. Fifth Ward resident Kevin Sullivan said, “I know Newport. This whole thing is bogus. They got rid of local sound companies and brought in the ‘big guys’ that resulted in noise violations. They had their chance and they blew it.” Similarly, Jack Milburn of Atlantic Street remarked, “They have an established track record and it’s bad. There’s no way this group should be rewarded.”

Attorney Turner Scott joined the opposition, relying largely on the city’s comprehensive plan that prohibits commercial encroachments in residential neighborhoods.

After a show of hands revealed that a majority in the room backed the relocation of the concerts, Councilor Marco Camacho said, “When we make a decision, we make it on the rule of law and consider minority opinions. Liberties and the property of homeowners come into play.”

Napolitano announced that the matter will be on the council’s Feb. 11 docket.

Editor's Note: Due to press deadline there will be a more complete story on this issue in the Jan. 29 edition.

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