2015-05-14 / Front Page

Peregrine Outlines Plans

By Barry Bridges

When the real estate development firm Peregrine Group LLC announced last September that it was purchasing the 3.5 acres of harborfront land comprising the Newport Yachting Center, the company was rather circumspect in revealing its future plans for the property, saying only that it would discontinue entertainment events while focusing on the existing parking and marina businesses there.

But Peregrine founding partner Colin Kane offered a somewhat broader picture of what he wants to accomplish at the sprawling site when he spoke at the annual meeting of the Alliance for a Livable Newport on Tuesday, May 12.

Although Kane began his remarks by acknowledging that he “is not a Newporter,” he is very aware of how the property along America’s Cup Avenue has “followed the trajectory of the city” in its transition from a working industrial waterfront to a tourist and hospitality district.

He also said he has a long relationship with the Yachting Center’s previous owner, Paul O’Reilly, who decided last year to concentrate on his restaurants. “They had so many activities going on, with the marina, boat shows, and concerts. It was awkward for them to manage. As we helped them evaluate their businesses, we thought about buying some of it ourselves.”

“However,” Kane remarked, “we were not the catalyst for the end of the concerts.” In describing how the acquisition played out, he said that the purchase was coincidental to the venue’s noise violations that left it butting heads with neighbors and the city. “The concerts were unprofitable and were turning Newport into something like spring break. It was a bit out of control.”

Since closing on the purchase, Kane has given much thought to its “highest and best use.”

He said that considering the downtown location, the parking lot and marina could thrive with no action on his part. As Peregrine continues to operate those two businesses, “There’s nothing compelling us to do anything. But we want very much to become a part of this community and want to add value.”

First on the list is a general sprucing up of the area and making it friendlier to pedestrians.

Kane described the entry into Newport along America’s Cup Avenue as “just awful,” with ugly lots, a cacophony of signs, and “dingy and dark” walks along the harbor. “DOT did a crummy job on the sidewalk improvements, but they are what they are. It doesn’t make for a great walking experience. We want to make the site function better.”

He also envisions improved parking amenities, with an expanded lot proposed in the area of the former Yachting Center tent. An upper level deck would be at street grade, with a lower level occupying the sloping ground below.

Kane also unveiled plans for small scale buildings along the street that would house retail shops. “They would be completed thoughtfully, in phases,” he said. Some may have second or third floors, which could possibly feature apartments to bring more residents to the waterfront. He also sees an opportunity to replicate the look and feel of Bowen’s and Bannister’s wharves on one section of the property, “but we don’t want to hurt the current retail market.”

Several “guideposts” will inform Peregrine’s efforts. “We will not impair any views,” Kane said. “We also want to ensure that we have some public space that will integrate into the pedestrian fabric of Newport.”

Moreover, Kane gave his assurances that there will be no net loss of parking. “Newport has not satisfied its municipal parking requirements, so we want to retain a sufficient density.” Kane also told Newport This Week that he is supportive of a valet service that was recently launched downtown. “There can’t be too many spaces,” he said.

But Kane also faces challenges, with the biggest problem being that the land lies in a flood plain. To comply with myriad state and local regulations, the developer will have to work closely with the Coastal Resources Management Council, in addition to Newport boards and code enforcement officials. “We’re very sensitive to flooding concerns and are working on the sea level issues, but to build nothing would be a waste.”

While all of these ideas are still at a conceptual level, Kane reported that more formalized project details will begin to take shape by June or July. He will be soliciting support from the community.

“We like to buy and create special things, and we want this to be a public process. We very much want to get buy-in to relieve this scar on downtown Newport. We don’t expect to make everybody happy, but we hope to make most people happy,” Kane concluded.

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