2016-10-20 / Front Page

Waterfront Plans Envision ‘Micro-Hotel’

By Barry Bridges

Peregrine Group/Scott’s Wharf LLC acquired the Newport Yachting Center and its wholly owned marina and parking operating entities from the Newport Harbor Corporation in December 2015. Renovations and new construction began in 2015 and will continue through 2018. Peregrine Group/Scott’s Wharf LLC acquired the Newport Yachting Center and its wholly owned marina and parking operating entities from the Newport Harbor Corporation in December 2015. Renovations and new construction began in 2015 and will continue through 2018. Two years after purchasing the Yachting Center site from the Newport Harbor Corp., the Peregrine Group outlined the current iteration of its development plans for the property to a group of over 50 who convened on Thursday, Oct. 13, for the annual meeting of Friends of the Waterfront.

Peregrine partners Colin Kane and Sam Bradner told those gathered at the Newport Public Library that major elements of the project as it is currently envisioned are a “micro-hotel” and pop-up retail cottages around Scott’s Wharf on America’s Cup Avenue.

Having focused on the marina and parking businesses since acquiring the property, Peregrine unveiled plans in the summer of 2015 to establish a significant retail presence in the neighborhood with street-level shops and apartments above. But those plans proved difficult to reconcile with the realities of the parcel’s location in the flood plain.

“The challenge that all of Newport has is the fact that the water table and water surface levels are pretty much at the same point,” Kane said in a conversation with Newport This Week. “There are some technologies that can help, and we did install a proprietary system with the marina upgrades.”

Other factors playing into development decisions have concerned stormwater management, the seasonal economy, an environmental legacy from the area’s working waterfront history, and an engaged citizenry, which Kane has previously described as a positive impact but one that can “make it difficult to please everybody.”

Peregrine has dedicated a lot of time to studying the economics of the property and has decided upon a smaller hotel, which needs at least 70 rooms “to make the numbers work.”

“We would have loved to offer a full-service hotel, but we are squeezed by flood and height requirements,” said Kane. He described a facility that will have some limited services and small rooms of about 150-200 square feet. “The architectural goal is to fit in, and we hope to have fun with it as we activate the streetscape.”

The hallmark of the “profoundly reduced retail plan” will be temporary pop-up cottages for merchants that can be removed during the winter.

“The pop-ups are modest; there is not a full-fledged retail plan as we had originally anticipated,” said Kane. The library presentation put the cottages in a historical context, saying that they would hark back to wooden shacks common in the area in the 18th and 19th centuries that were used for salting and drying fish, keeping trade goods, and as stables for work horses.

Peregrine also hopes to improve the pedestrian experience along the wharves, while enhancing waterfront access and installing green infrastructure.

There are no plans to reintroduce the concert and entertainment events such as those that were hosted at the Yachting Center’s former tent. And, while the skating rink recently found a continued temporary home along the waterfront, this season will likely be its last at that location.

“Skating will be available this winter, and we’re thrilled to have it back. But it may be the last year considering the objectives for the site,” said Kane. “The highest and best use of the property is hospitality oriented.”

As he has previously emphasized, Kane said that significant legwork is being undertaken to garner public input on the proposal. “Through meetings such as this one, we are trying hard to get local buy-in. The residents of the nearby Harbor View Condominiums matter a lot, the merchants around us matter a lot, and of course the city’s opinion matters.”

The company’s next steps will be securing state and local permits to proceed with its plans. “Going through the necessary processes with the Newport Zoning Board and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council are both significant undertakings, and those efforts will run along somewhat parallel paths,” said Kane.

He added, “We’re under no time pressure, and it’s important that we see a net benefit for a lot of stakeholders. We want our plans to enhance the community’s interaction with the site.”

Friends of the Waterfront President Johanna Vietry said that she was pleased with what she heard during the presentation. “I thought it was excellent,” she told Newport This Week. “We’re all pretty happy with what they’re planning, and scale-wise it seems to be in keeping with the surroundings. We didn’t want to see huge hotels or condos. And they’re going to create some open and green spaces.”

“There were some thoughtful questions from the audience,” she added. “We had some tough people who really don’t want to see any development, but they were very receptive to the ideas and people did like what they heard.

“In the end it’s Peregrine’s property and they have to make some money,” Vietry concluded. “They’re really very limited to what they can do permanently unless they’re going to be given some type of special allowance, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

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