2016-12-01 / Front Page

Gateway Renovations to Begin

By James Merolla

Canopies for the transit area and small rain gardens are among the improvements slated for the Gateway Visitors Center. 
(Rendering courtesy of Northeast Collaborative Architects) Canopies for the transit area and small rain gardens are among the improvements slated for the Gateway Visitors Center. (Rendering courtesy of Northeast Collaborative Architects) The $6.5 million renovation of Newport’s Gateway Visitors Center that proponents herald as “more befitting of the city’s historic nature” should start and finish in the next seven months, before an estimated one million tourists visit next summer.

About 60 people, including the outgoing mayor, the incoming mayor, councilors, and state officials, as well as a large contingent of abutters from the neighboring Point section of the city, attended a Nov. 28 Alliance for a Livable Newport community forum on the planned Gateway improvements.

Many of the design details – the work of Glenn Gardiner and Andrea Baranyk of Newport’s Northeast Collaborative Architects, who joined the project in July – seemed to please the crowd, most notably:

. Work begins in December
. The deadline to finish the renovations is June 1, 2017, weather permitting
. The contractor – Tower Construction of Cranston, which won the bidding process on Nov. 21 – faces financial penalties for not meeting that deadline, but there are also incentives for finishing ahead of schedule
. There will be many new features, including green aluminum-roofed canopies over the bus stop area

. New rain gardens will be supported by vegetation native to southern New England and southern Rhode Island – grasses, red maple, sweet gum, and tupelo,  all indigenous species that require no special maintenance
. There will be a new drop-off and pick-up area for taxis and cars, as well as new bike lanes and racks along the front of the building on America’s Cup Avenue
. The blue metal towers that once
held the canvas awnings destroyed
by Hurricane Sandy will be removed . A drainage system will allow
rainwater to be collected and fed
to new landscaping features scattered strategically over the eight-acre parcel
. The area will be repaved not with asphalt, but with white Portland cement to  absorb heat
. The structure should not require any maintenance (beyond mowing and parking lot cleaning) for at least 30 years

The city owns the site and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) runs the buses there, having signed a 99-year lease for the transportation complex and terminal that expires in 2087.

Some 90 percent of the $6.5 million Gateway project is being funded with federal monies, with 10 percent coming from the city.

Representatives of the RIPTA team leading the effort discussed the changes, budget, timetable, and provided renderings of the upcoming project while answering questions from the audience. Lillian Picchione, director of RIPTA’s capital development, led the presentation.

Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano detailed how on Oct. 7, 2012, Hurricane Sandy took out the center’s tents, which had been in place for almost 25 years. “The question became, should we replace them with canvas and sail or should we do something else?”

The project “sputtered,” she added, restarting twice, with initial designs going back to 2014, which were deemed unacceptable. A new Design Review Committee chaired by Councilor Naomi Neville, an architect, and Councilor Lynn Ceglie took the reins.

“It was stop, go, stop, go. A panel was formed from the city and RIPTA and the DOT. ‘It needs to look different. It needs to look like it belongs to Newport.’ Then, the feds came in,” Napolitano described.

Overseers, the mayor said, saw sidewalks crumbling, water pooling, and wanted to incorporate new runoff techniques and rain gardens. “It went from a $650,000 project to a $6.5 million project, and the City Council had to come up with the money twice.

“It was a big jump from what we thought originally, but we need a welcome center that truly reflects Newport, to greet the half-million estimated guests from all 50 states and numerous countries who visit the Gateway each season,” Napolitano continued. “We have a very aggressive schedule. It is a brand new era in Newport.”

“It became clear we needed to do this project in the winter because we wanted to work around the tourists, and there is a cost premium as well,” said Picchione.

Abutters seemed to like the improved plan, although they still had concerns about light pollution from high or direct lighting, water runoff, traffic access and the potential of noise from rain pouring on the aluminum roofs. But most saw the plans as a welcome departure from the previous look that even Picchione joked about.

“This is a vast improvement over the previous design, which looked more like something you would see on a gas station or a Home Depot,” said Lisa Lewis, who lives on the Point. The previous design was put together by DHK Architects Inc. of Boston, whose work ran into criticism when it was presented in 2015.

“We tried to work within the context of the existing visitor’s center building,” said Gardiner of the local architectural firm’s new design. “It is a modern interpretation of 19thcentury resort vernacular architecture. It also borrows from transportation architecture from the same period.”

“We have every intention of satisfying the neighborhood,” said Picchione, who promised frequent onsite inspections.

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