2015-08-13 / Front Page

Gateway Upgrades Proposed

By Tom Walsh


Old canvas roofing largely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 would be replaced by permanent roofing above the outside waiting area at Newport’s 27-year-old Gateway Center on America’s Cup Avenue. Ninety percent of this and other improvements to the center’s exterior would be paid for by the Federal Transit Authority. (Design rendering courtesy of DHK Architects) Old canvas roofing largely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 would be replaced by permanent roofing above the outside waiting area at Newport’s 27-year-old Gateway Center on America’s Cup Avenue. Ninety percent of this and other improvements to the center’s exterior would be paid for by the Federal Transit Authority. (Design rendering courtesy of DHK Architects) City officials and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) hope that a generous federal program tied to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 will pay for 90 percent of a project to rehabilitate the exterior of Newport’s Gateway Center and the land around it.

“I like what we’ve seen conceptually,” said Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

As the project was first envisioned, the task was to restore the canvas “tent” that protects bus riders and others from the elements. The cost for that work was estimated by designers at about $1.6 million. Now, however, a more ambitious effort has emerged that would put a permanent roof on top of the waiting area, install numerous drainage, visual and other exterior improvements, and repaint the center’s blue roof an “earth tone” green to match other conspicuous green roofs nearby.

That work would cost between $6 million and $7 million. The hope is that the Federal Transit Administration, which administers a $3 billion fund created in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, will cover the additional cost of the more expensive option.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll get the rest of the money,” said Barbara Polichetti, a RIPTA spokesperson. “But nothing is final yet.”

The Gateway Center, located on land that was once a tidal basin and later a lumberyard, was initially paid for by a federal Urban Mass Transit Grant. The center opened in 1988.

“Everyone was so excited and they called it a new era for Newport,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, an agency now located in the Gateway building. At the time, Smith said, the building’s contemporary style was hailed as giving the city a new look and something that would “make the city more dynamic.”

But over the years, Smith said, people began to question the contemporary styling in a city with so much colonial architecture and heritage. “The question that didn’t get asked then was whether that contemporary look belonged in a colonial city,” Smith said. “This place has not, architecturally, endeared itself to the local community. No one says it’s the best looking building they’ve ever seen.”

Given damage to the waiting area “tent” roof caused by Hurricane Sandy, a design panel that looked at the situation offered three options: restore the tenting that was damaged in the storm; cover the existing, and still usable, steel pillars with glass; or construct a more permanent roof and also upgrade the surrounding area with a new drainage system, rain gardens, and improved lighting and sidewalks.

The most ambitious option with 90 percent federal funding seems to have emerged as the preferred way to go. “That’s the one that everyone on the design team has been focusing on,” said RIPTA’s Polichetti.

“The council is still reviewing all the information we’ve gotten,” Napolitano said. “Whether the rest of the council will go along, I don’t know.” The council is scheduled to consider the issue at its Aug. 26 meeting.

If the council concurs, she said the city could “probably” pay its share of the 90/10 split from reserve funds.

RIPTA has no timeline for the project, Polichetti said. “But we are optimistic that once the local match is secured, we will hear fairly quickly regarding final approval of the federal funding.”

“Without other factors delaying things, I would think they could get this done in 2016,” said Discover Newport’s Smith.

Mayor Napolitano said that federal officials were in Newport about a week ago to review the situation. “I think they understood the gravity of our position,” she said. “The building gets a million people a year, so it’s important.”

The mayor also maintained that drainage improvements would help to alleviate “some” of the storm flooding experienced by nearby residents of the Point neighborhood. “It would be very hard to walk away from 90/10 funding,” the mayor said. “Why not go up a couple of levels?”

Smith said the Gateway Center has played an important role in Newport for the past 27 years. He said replacing the waiting area’s canvas with a permanent roof along with the other proposed improvements “can drastically improve it for another 27 years.

“For relatively small money, the city can get a huge upgrade visually,” Smith said. “The upgrades would make it as effective as ever, but they would make it look a whole lot better. To me, it’s a nobrainer. With that kind of federal money, why would you not do it?”

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