2016-04-28 / Around Town

Peregrine Plans Evolve

By Barry Bridges

Last May, Peregrine Group’s founding partner Colin Kane stood before a small crowd from the Alliance for a Livable Newport and outlined his vision for the Newport Yachting Center, which his company had acquired in the fall of 2014.

At the time of purchase, Peregrine perhaps received the most attention for discontinuing the summertime concerts at the Yachting Center, which Kane described as unprofitable events that were “turning Newport into something like spring break.”

He had different ideas for the area’s “highest and best use,” with immediate goals of maintaining parking amenities and improving the pedestrian experience along the waterfront. Kane ultimately wanted to erect several buildings along America’s Cup Avenue that would house retail shops at the street level, with apartments on upper floors to bring in more people.

But those plans have proved difficult to reconcile with the realities of the Yachting Center’s location in the city’s flood plain.

As the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce at OceanCliff on Tuesday, April 26, Kane discussed what he viewed as development opportunities and challenges, and unveiled amended plans with a reduced retail footprint.

The flood plain is one of several issues affecting Kane’s goals for the property.

“We wanted to build largely on the parking lot at The Mooring, but the flood plain is too much of an issue,” he told Newport This Week.

“We can’t get people up to a boardwalk level there, so it’s prohibitive of new verticals [buildings].

“The flood plain is high, and what FEMA would allow [to be built] in the neighborhood would makes things somewhat difficult for us,” he continued.

In his presentation, Kane pointed to other factors impacting his decisions, including an “environmental legacy” from the area’s history as a working waterfront; stormwater management problems; and an engaged and active citizenry, which, while generally having a positive impact on the city, can “make it difficult when you have to please everybody.”

Of course, economic considerations have also come into play. In addition to the oft-cited seasonal nature of Newport’s economy, Kane pointed to skewed property value expectations in the city. “Everyone who owns a scrap of dirt here thinks it triples in value when you cross that bridge. There is some ‘value disconnect’ in downtown Newport,” he said.

Kane mentioned the “milk versus invest” dilemma in determining strategies for new properties. “One could ask, why put a lot of money in when I can just put a sign up and continue to charge for parking? The Mooring would still be full, and the yachts would still pull up.”

But Kane views Newport as a “nurturing place for business” and said that while Peregrine is not going to simply “milk” the property, it has adjusted its previously-announced plans to reflect the varied dynamics at play.

The first phase of the project is underway and is making experiential improvements for a “much nicer marina,” along with work to upgrade facilities and the special events tent at Sunset Terrace.

Kane said the second phase will focus on landscape improvements around The Mooring and Bannister’s Wharf. “We need to soften this for pedestrians, through landscaping, lighting, and pavers.

Kane has previously depicted the entry into Newport along America’s Cup as “just awful, with ugly lots, a cacophony of signs, and dingy and dark walks” along the harbor. “It doesn’t make for a great walking experience. We want to make the site function better.”

At the Chamber meeting, he added, “We want to lead people down there by created a small public park, perhaps a place to stop and figure out where you want to go…. We’d also like some sort of an interpretive feature informing visitors about the history of the working waterfront.”

He acknowledged that about 25 parking spaces may be sacrificed through these enhancements, which he estimates will be completed by next winter.

The company will then turn its attentions to “activating America’s Cup Avenue.” Peregrine wants to set up temporary small buildings in the area for merchants, which Kane described as inexpensive “retail cottages” for vendors that would be removed in the off season.

The only permanent building currently envisioned by Peregrine is at Scott’s Wharf where the ice rink has been located. It would feature lower level parking spaces to better accommodate rising water threats, with retail shops at the street level and a 25-room “micro hotel” above. Architectural details are still preliminary, as officials at the CRMC and DEM will have to weigh in on the proposals.

Kane feels that Newport has positive things going for it, and wants to contribute to its varied economic base and integrate into the fabric of the neighborhood.

“We’re optimistic that what we’re trying to do is treading lightly on downtown,” he concluded. “We want to happily engage the city, public, and the neighborhood.”

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