2015-07-09 / Opinion

Museum Food Service is the Issue

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Mr. O’Reilly’s letter of last week to NTW ("Preservation Society is Our Economic Engine," July 2). First of all, I believe that nearly everyone in Newport agrees that the Preservation Society has been and will be an important economic factor in the life of Newport, even if they continue to refuse to make PILOT tax payments as Salve Regina does. In fact, even without the installation of modern ticketing and toilet facilities at The Breakers, the PS has just had its most successful financial year with over $20 million in revenues, 928,000 visitors and a capital campaign that has raised more than $25 million. The financial future of the Society, with or without a new ticketing facility, is bright. However, a building to house ticketing and toilets has never been the issue. The Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association is fully in agreement with the Breakers House Committee, which in 2003 recommended to the PS trustees that such a ticketing and toilets facility be built in The Breakers parking lot.

However, the PS wants much more than this. They demand the right to operate food service facilities at all their museums whether located in residential zones or not. If granted, this right would extend to all other museums operated in the city. They have recently demanded that the City Council issue them a victualing license, saying that the city had no right to deny a license as long as the PS complied with health and safety regulations. If this position is accepted by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the city would be compelled to issue victualing licenses to all museums, no matter the impact on their neighborhoods. There are over 30 museums in the city with this interpretation; all could open restaurants whatever their location. If the city can only deny victualing licenses for health and safety reasons, the victualing process at City Hall could become chaotic, imperiling all neighborhoods. As usual, the PS says this is not their problem.

The PS has campaigned for these rights for two years now, all the while hiding the cost of doing so from their members by “capitalizing” those expenses, which in total may have reached $1 million. They have clearly alienated many members who have been important supporters in the past. The situation is very similar to the world famous Frick Art Museum in New York City, where the board had proposed the destruction of an important garden and its replacement by an incomegenerating building. The plan was opposed by members, descendants of the Frick family and many New Yorkers. Fortunately, the Frick board recently came to its senses and abandoned the project. There is still the opportunity for the Society’s trustees to come to the same conclusion and realign its longterm interests with both the neighborhood and the City of Newport.

James Moore
President, Bellevue Ochre Point
Neighborhood Association

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