NEWPORT: QUEEN ANNE SQUARE REDESIGN
Council OKs new look
By Sean Flynn
Daily News staff
Internationally renowned artist and architectural designer Maya Lin will redesign Queen Anne Square in downtown Newport after the City Council approved her plan on a 5-1 vote Wednesday night. The vote followed six months of controversy that bitterly divided supporters and opponents of the proposal.
The council approved an agreement with the Doris Duke Monument Foundation, an offshoot of the Newport Restoration Foundation, under which the foundation will provide up to $3.5 million for the redesign of the park and at least $500,000 for a park maintenance fund. No city money will be used for the project.
Pieter Roos, executive director of the Newport Restoration Foundation, presented the council with a budget developed by Farrar & Associates of Newport, the company that will oversee the project, showing estimated total construction costs of $2.41 million. Stone engravings in the park, to be completed by Nick Benson and the John Stevens Shop of Newport, were not included in the budget since the quotes to be carved have not been chosen yet. The exact cost of a granite water table in one of the seating areas also has not been determined, but was estimated at $75,000.
Roos said more than $3.2 million has been raised for the project, and any surplus above the construction costs would go toward the maintenance endowment fund.
Work will begin in the early spring and be completed by June 15, according the agreement.
“I think this is a great opportunity for Newport,” Mayor Stephen C. Waluk said. “A year from now, on Dec. 14, 2012, Queen Anne Square will be a place people won’t just walk through, but a place people will walk to. People will ask what all the fuss was about.”
“I don’t agree with the mayor too often, but I agree with him tonight,” Councilwoman Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said. She said she has been traveling around Aquidneck Island and the county in recent days as the controversy attracted statewide and nationwide attention. “People have overwhelmingly asked me, ‘What is wrong with improving a park?’ ‘What is wrong with Newport?’” Napolitano said she welcomed the planned addition of benches in the park, which currently has no place to sit.
“If I lay down in the park, I wouldn’t be able to get up,” she said. “I want more people to be able to enjoy the park, not just the twentysomethings. It will be a tremendous tribute to Doris Duke.”
Councilman Charles Y. Duncan was the lone vote on the council opposing the project. He supported a group called Real Park for Real Newport that opposed the Lin plan and instead wanted to hold a sculpture competition for a permanent monument to Duke.
Duncan called on the council to reject the foundation’s monetary gift and the agreement calling for the redesign of the park.
“The city of Troy would have been much better off if it had turned down that horse,” he said.
Councilwoman Kathryn E. Leonard was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
Queen Anne Square, a 1.2acre plot of land that extends from Thames Street to Trinity Church, was transformed from a block of mainly commercial buildings into a city park in the late 1970s largely through the vision of — and funding from — Duke, who died in 1993. The Newport Restoration Foundation also is negotiating with Trinity Church to redesign the small part of the park that belongs to the church.
Marion “Oatsie” Oates Charles, president of both the Newport Restoration Foundation and the Doris Duke Monument Foundation, came up with the idea of upgrading Queen Anne Square as a tribute to her friend Duke. The 100th anniversary of Duke’s birth will be in 2012.
“We are confident that the revised plans for Queen Anne Square, which were the result of a robust dialogue throughout the community, will be a source of enjoyment for the city and our visitors for decades to come,” Roos said in a prepared statement after the vote. “To all of those individuals and organizations who joined in the conversation and offered their views about the project, we thank you for your participation.”
The plan calls for three seating areas, about 18 inches tall, shaped like stone foundations. The interiors would have a bluestone surface, like the proposed paths, and have subdued lighting. The current lampposts in the park and the Belgian blocks of the former Frank Street would remain. The park would offer free WiFi connection to the Internet, and a few chess and checkerboards would be inlaid in the foundation tops.
“Ms. Lin’s minimalist foundation sculptures that are historical references to the parkland’s eclectic past is a contextual solution, not a literal solution,” Councilwoman Naomi Neville said. “The design simultaneously reflects back on Newport’s founding principle of religious equality and yet brings back the beautiful vista towards Trinity Church.”
Neville was responding to critics who objected to what they called the “faux foundations,” “Disney foundations” or “pits in the park.” The ground inside the seating areas will be the same level as the ground outside the seating areas, but the “pits” label stuck despite design modifications that eliminated steps down into the areas. All three seating areas will be wheelchair accessible.
Before the discussion, the council held a public hearing on the proposal, during which both proponents and opponents spoke. Many of their lengthy comments mirrored what they said during a Dec. 7 public workshop on the plan.
There was more public support for the plan on Wednesday. Jody Sullivan, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, said the members of the chamber overwhelmingly support the project. Evan Smith, executive director of the Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that organization also support the project. Smith said it would be a boost to the city’s $600 million tourism industry.
Councilman Harry Winthrop said that after the plans were publicized in May, it seemed as if there were more opponents than proponents in the public debate.
“Recently, the tide has shifted to the pro side,” he said.
There were significant changes to the plan during a long public process that included two council workshops and a public hearing, he said. The sizes of the foundation seating areas were reduced, lighting and benches were added, and nine more trees than currently are in the park will be added, he said.
“I see this as proof the process worked,” he said.
He said calls by opponents to hold a referendum ignore the fact that this country is governed by representative democracy, with elected officials charged to make decisions on behalf of the community.
“We can’t have a referendum on every controversial issue,” he said. “Government would come to a screeching halt.”
Winthrop also condemned critics who tried to “discredit” Lin or tried “to tear her down as a person.”
“That is just wrong,” he said. Council Vice Chairman Justin S. McLaughlin said the park plan has “potentiality.”
“I confess in May I was not fully in support of the project,” he said. “But I didn’t work to impede it, but to improve it.”
He said the agreement makes clear that the Newport city manager has oversight over the project, which private patrons are paying for as a gift to the city.
“The hardest thing in life is to accept a gift,” he said.
Copyright © 2011 Edward A. Sherman Publishing Co.