2015-09-03 / Opinion

Where Are All the Young Newport Professionals?

To the Editor:

The recently released renderings of the Newport Gateway Visitors Center have me asking a lot of hard questions of the city I've called home for the past 3.5 years. After graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science/Master of Architecture dual degree from Roger Williams University's School of Architecture, Art and Historic Preservation, I made the journey across the bridge, away from the East Bay, and down to the tip of Aquidneck Island to practice architecture in the City by the Sea.

Later that same year, in 2011, I was part of the design team that won "1st Place: Best Exterior" and "2nd Place: Best Interior" in an international design competition that aimed to create a buzz around the center's need for renovation. The project then seemed to evaporate until two years later, when the East Coast was hit by Hurricane Sandy and significant damage was caused to the bus terminal. Suddenly, there was an opportunity to have the project funded by the federal government. How exciting this prospect was for me at the time. But I was naive to think that because we won the design competition it would lead to a big design commission.

Then, another two years went by and here we are today, in 2015, wondering why a Boston/ New York/ Puerto Rico-based architecture firm was selected to move forward with a conceptual design exercise and not one of the many qualified firms based in Rhode Island. There are a lot of issues with this design; most notably its desire to echo the same heavy, covered bus terminal that exists today. More due diligence needed to be done prior to the release of these renderings, and I believe a Rhode Island firm with local knowledge of the area would have been perfectly tailored to take on this project and would have yielded a far better result.

Anyhow, I still reside in Newport for the time being; however, professionally, I've moved on to greener pastures up in Providence. I also work part time as an adjunct professor to help make ends meet. I certainly cannot speak for all young professionals, but from my experience practicing architecture in Newport, the insultingly low wages offered to young professionals here made it impossible to stay. I'm not an economist, and don't claim to be, but there must be a direct correlation to low-paying "professional" jobs and a lack of steady opportunity made available to local firms.

Sure, the visitors center is just one project, but time after time, I've seen large-scale projects in this city being commissioned to firms elsewhere (e.g., Tennis Hall of Fame expansion, Queen Anne Square renovation, Marriott Hotel renovation, etc.). Why isn't more of an effort made by the "big players" in this city to patronize qualified and talented local architects, engineers, and contractors?

What is Newport's vision for the next 10 to 20 years? Is this a city that will continue to be fueled by a three-month tourist season backed only with transient, service industry jobs or is this a city looking to retain its millennial population by providing professional job opportunities and competitive salaries with other cities like Providence and Boston?

Lawrence J. Zarpaylic
Newport

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