Newport This Week

Waites Wharf Hotel Developer Makes Case

Some of the buildings along Waites Wharf being considered for demolition.

Some of the buildings along Waites Wharf being considered for demolition.

The process to build a new 150- room hotel on Waites Wharf took a step forward with the developer presenting an application to demolish several buildings on the site during the Newport Planning Board’s March 1 meeting.

Objections of those opposing the development shaped the evening. They included objections from city staffers who have recommended denying the application. The Planning Board will meet on March 15 to hear more from the developer. There will also be time for public comment.

The four buildings at issue are the Lynch Stables at 16 Waites Wharf; the Thomas Crawford Blacksmithing building at 20 West Extension St.; the Dockside Restaurant at 25 Waites Wharf; and The Deck Restaurant at 1 Waites Wharf.

The developer’s representatives used one of the objectors’ major concerns, the danger from rising sea levels, as a reason to demolish the structures, saying their dilapidated state makes them vulnerable to storms.

The Planning Board reviews all demolition applications outside of the city’s Historic District. The board must consider the application as a demolition project only and not factor in what will be built.

Attorney Russell Jackson, representing the Abruzese family, the owners and developers of the site, acknowledged “an apprehension about more large-scale developments in the city,” before calling those apprehensions “blatantly false.”

He said the site has been unfairly presented as a “toxic wasteland,” and added that it was wrong of city staff reviewing the project to have had contact with objectors. He said he has never seen a demolition application so “aggressively” denied.

Tammy Abruzese said her family has always had the goal of developing a mixed-use commercial property there and has turned down offers from others who wanted to build residential units.

Neal Hingorany, a professional land surveyor, said the project would enhance the waterfront by adapting the parcel to rising sea levels. He said the planned improvements would make the site more resilient, with the hotel at a height of 19 feet, with parking underneath. The open area would al- low any floodwaters to safely pass through the structures without inserting great force on the buildings. In contrast, he said the existing buildings were built on grade, with no pathway for water to flow through.

The developer would also improve the site by upgrading the bulkheads on the watersides with a state-of-the-art stormwater management system, he said, which would capture runoff and filter it to “the highest degree possible.”

Referring to climate-driven sea-level changes, he said, “These rises are real to Newport and Aquidneck Island.”

Catherine Zipf, the executive director of the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society and a former professor of architectural history at Salve Regina University, also spoke. Zipf was instrumental in creating the Southern Thames National Register Historic District.

The district defines the “working waterfront” as residential and commercial between 1790 and 1940. It covers the area from Memorial Boulevard to Morton Avenue, and from the waterfront to Spring Street, which includes the proposed hotel site. While this status does not legally restrict owners’ property rights, it does complicate the Abruzese’s application.

Along with other criteria, all demolition applications must mesh with the city’s strategic plan, which has made the preservation of the city’s historic fabric paramount.

Zipf, when working on the application, had her students assist her to survey over 900 buildings to determine which were “contributing,” meaning those that were part of the life of the area for 150 years. She now downplays that survey, saying that the students simply made best estimates of the age of the 900 structures, and those they thought dated from the appropriate period were so classified.

“It’s possible to have a contributing building and still demolish it,” she said.

In her opinion, only the Lynch Stables has any preservation value, with an interesting front façade and walls built with recycled stones, pieced together in a manner reminiscent of old New England stone walls. However, the building is so derelict that restoring it would be cost prohibitive, and raising it to protect it from sea level rise after fixing it would be even more costly.

The other three buildings, said Zipf, are not especially important to Newport’s architectural heritage. She said many people have called them eyesores, and their removal would not harm the character of the area.

Local architect Ross Cann was the final speaker, emphasizing the dismal state of the buildings, and pointing out they are out of compliance with energy standards, among other code issues. He also said they lack “lateral strength,” making them vulnerable to the force of powerful floods, where they might be broken apart, with the debris carried into the city.

Cann agreed with Zipf on the value of the Lynch Stables and the difficulty in preserving it. He also agreed that it should be thoroughly measured by laser and photographed to allow virtual replication. Further, both believe the stone and wood of the building should be recycled, possibly in the new hotel.

As to the other three buildings, he said, “These buildings are beyond not being beloved.”

He said the Dockside Restaurant is without historical or architectural value, “unless the 1970s disco era is historically significant.”

When asked by board member Anand Toprani if changes to the buildings over the years make for some significance worth preserving, Cann compared them to having too many plastic surgeries, making everything uglier.

He added that the three buildings do not meet the standards for preservation in Newport, and lack “the quality and character to which the city aspires.”

He concluded that preserving and modernizing the four buildings would be a “waste of money.”

2 responses to “Waites Wharf Hotel Developer Makes Case”

  1. Beth Cullen says:

    Authentic, organic, architecturally-appropriately layered historic streetscapes — in contrast to — over-sized, out of scale, formulaic, vista blocking, infrastructure damaging, traffic choking, non-conforming monstrosity. You choose!

    Do we continue to shove more hotels into our compact seaside city — or do we stand-up to the visionless politicians who take large donations from developers, lawyers, and tourism titans, and say ENOUGH!

    Why is it we never hear anyone on the Council dais speak of the need to develop a more diverse year-round economy that attracts more higher-quality, high-growth, high-paying jobs?

    The City By The Sea — the pearl of the Ocean State — should/could be leading the way in the nascent Blue/Green/Innovation Economy.

    What will it take to decouple from the quick fix of hospitality cash? Maybe a pandemic that kills the trade? Oh, right — we have that!

  2. Kelly D Fickenworth says:

    Isn’t all that soil in those waterfront businesses ( 4 buildings and paved & unpaved) tested positive for toxic soil that needs to be remediated. That fact needs to also be addressed. Ty.

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