2017-05-11 / Opinion


A Place to Always Be Proud Of

To the Editor:

Despite an improving website, and occasional newspaper articles, it’s not easy to keep current and understand what’s happening up at Newport’s North End. It’s the city’s wished-for innovation district, knowledge district, business area, a “resiliency” area that must stand up to hurricanes and sea level rise. Most important, it’s an area for the creation of good year-round jobs in our largely seasonal, tourist based economy, except for the Navy.

This redevelopment area is a big deal, with newly developable land resulting from redesigned ramps into Newport from the Pell Bridge. It’s as big as Providence’s Route I-195 relocation project. It’s a complicated area of roughly 60 acres, of which 38-40 will be available for development, according to Paul Carroll, Newport’s Director of Civic Investment.

But I’d like to see more ideas, an interdisciplinary approach, an aesthetic vision, and not just a financial one. Let’s have more public process and transparency for this project. Being zoned industrial commercial is a concern.

How about putting large, easy to read maps in the island’s public libraries, so citizens can see exactly what changes to the streets are planned, what projects, and perhaps suggest improvements? The maps of the North End plan on the city’s website don’t translate well on computer screens. Let’s not allow the civil engineers, our state’s or Louis Berger’s, lock us into a street plan too early: we don’t want wide roads like America’s Cup Avenue again, or blocks that are too large to be pedestrian-friendly. As important as engineers, bring in the landscape architects early, to design small urban parks and tree-lined streets that will both beautify and cool the area in our increasingly hot summers.

Let’s post people’s ideas, not only on the website, but put them up in the public library or city hall near those good maps. Short, clear jargon-free text by the planners should explain the maps. Let ideas fly. Do we need a performing arts center up there?

What about moving the Naval Museum from its difficult-to-access place on the base into a highly visible location, perhaps the soon-to- be-vacated Newport Grand Casino? It could be a landmark, a way-finding structure, and confirm the Navy’s importance to Newport at this gateway into the city.

I fear that since it’s currently zoned commercial-industrial, we could have another unwalkable office park, with low, bland buildings amidst a sea of parking lots, such as Middletown’s John Clarke road. Or the area might look like Fall River’s sterile Innovation Way with its wide streets, huge Amazon redistribution plant, and large field of solar panels, a place you’d never want to walk, despite its sidewalks.

We have a very special island known for its great beauty: the landscape, the harbor and coast, and the extraordinary architecture. The North End will be different from the old city, of course, but I hope we can consider aesthetics and scale and make it a place to be proud of in 50 years.

Mary Shepard

Give Local Businesses A Chance

To the Editor:

The reason for this letter is my reaction to the party that was held on Washington Square and in Touro Park on Friday night, May 5. I was taken aback a bit when I found out that no Aquidneck Island companies, except Newport Tent, were involved. If some were asked for bids, were they given a shot at matching or beating the other bids received? Were all the bids for the same things?

This was very upsetting to me. I realize that the reasons for these affairs are good, most are for some type of charity or fundraiser for what is a good cause, but for organizations to ignore local talent in favor of out of town companies, I believe, is wrong.

The Opera House is a good cause, but this island has a professional sound and lighting company, so why did they go to the Providence area for this event? Also, we have some of the best caterers around, but they hired one from Attleboro, not even a Rhode Island company. Yes he has a closet on Bellevue Avenue he calls an office, but his entire operation is out of state. As an example, Blackstone is in Middletown, where they prep and cook, and their staff is mostly from the island.

I would think that a venue as large as Washington Square and Touro Park would cost between $3,000 and $5,000 if rented, but it is free because we the taxpayers allow it. So, the host should at least give our local people a chance to make a buck by hiring them.

This criticism is not aimed at just the Opera House but to all the other non-profits that hire for different functions throughout the year. This island has all the talent you need to make whatever type of function you are planning a rousing success. All you need to do is give them a chance. You owe them that, as it is their taxes that support your events.

I believe that Salve Regina will be holding its graduation soon and hope they give the locals a shot. After all the tax breaks they get from Newport I think they owe us that much.

Jack Milburn

'Theater Happening' was Top-Notch

To the Editor:

What a "swellegant," elegant party it was! Cole Porter was not in attendance, but he might as well have been! If Friday’s fundraiser, for the Opera House a “Theater Happening,” is any indication, Rhode Island is in for a treat when the Opera House opens next year. The event in a tent on Washington Square was unique and imaginative. Time flew as guests attended mini concerts at stages set up in banks, boutiques and public buildings around the square. Inclusion of the institutions surrounding the new theater bodes well for an enthusiastic revival of the whole square. The best indication of things to come was the variety and excellence of the performers. They were all top notch. Congratulations to the producers, the sponsors, the staff at the performance spaces and the army of volunteers who pulled this off under threat of driving rain and floods! Hey Newport, this is gonna be good!

Ann McMahon

Why Reject Regionalization?

To the Editor:

There was a referendum on the 2014 ballot asking permission to continue talks for a regionalized/ unified high school between Newport and Middletown. Councilors Barbra VonVillas, Richard Adams and regionalization proponents indicate that this will save money, increase learning and reimburse the regional district approximately 60 per cent for a new regional high school.

As I read it, the proposal is back.

Rhode Island has experience with regionalization, with such combined districts as Exeter/ West Greenwich, Chariho, Bristol/ Warren and Foster/Gloster, where both administrative costs and per pupil costs have ballooned. There has been no savings to the taxpayers of regional districts or to the state. It was said by the above representatives to our previous regional school district planning committee that if you’re doing this to save money, don’t bother.

Under RI General Law, Chapter 16-3-11, “A regional school district established under the provisions of 16-3-10 shall be a body politic, and corporate with all the powers and duties conferred by law upon school committees.” Included in the following additional powers and duties is the ability “to acquire by purchase, gift or other means of transfer or by condemnation, land and improvements within the district.” Thus, the district may “take possession of the land without any process of law required by statute or common law, and remove any or all buildings, property, or other impediments, and occupy, use, and improve the land for the purposes of this chapter notwithstanding any other provision of law.”

The executive summary from the National Education Policy Center tells the opposite side. The study, which is called "Consolidation of Schools and Districts" can be viewed at nepc.colorado.edu.

This is one of a series of briefs made possible in part by funding from The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, greatlakescenter.org.

Presently, federal, state, and local governments can take your property. Do you want to add a school board to that list?

Antone C. Viveiros, Member
Middletown Town Council

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