In the latest reimagining of Providence’s central square, you get from Kennedy Plaza to Waterplace Park by bridge instead of tunnel.
You ice skate on a “riverine,” s-shaped water feature in the plaza instead of the current BankNewport City Center rink.
And when WaterFire returns, you’ll gaze up at a giant ring suspended over the basin that sprays mist down upon spectators.
All of these things are part of a $140-million plan unveiled by Mayor Jorge Elorza and city planners Wednesday that takes another stab at making Kennedy Plaza and the downtown riverwalk more attractive and welcoming.
“We know that the Kennedy Plaza space has been the center of our city geographically, but it has never fully been the center of our city culturally,” Elorza told reporters at a Wednesday briefing. “In our mind’s eye, we have never had that city center in Providence that the other cities that we have all fallen in love with throughout the world have.”
Elorza’s plan, developed by the architecture and engineering consultancy Arup, includes multiple phases over several years and needs money that the city has not yet identified.
It also coincides with the state Department of Transportation’s ongoing effort to break up the central Rhode Island Public Transit Authority bus hub at Kennedy Plaza, a plan that has drawn attacks from transit advocates. The state plan would disperse bus births now in the plaza between new hubs at the Providence train station and Jewelry District.
Elorza, who is term-limited next year, has not objected to the multi-hub bus plan and his new plaza redesign assumes it, although planners say it does not rely on it.
The core of the new plan would eliminate the section of Washington Street that now separates Kennedy Plaza from Burnside Park and join the two spaces together. Bus stops that remain in the vicinity of the plaza would be shifted to Exchange Street, Exchange Terrace and Dorrance Street.
Where there are now cars, buses and concrete, the city’s new plan would build a series of new amenities designed to attract people downtown.
- The new serpentine pool/rink, which would host skating in the winter and a “splash park” wading pool in the summer.
- A sheltered public area and building with a cafe, performance space, bathrooms and “social services for people experiencing homelessness.”
- A new visitors center where the soldiers and sailors monument is now
- A series of child-friendly mini fountains spraying lighted water
- A sports area with a basketball court skateboard park where the ice rink is now
The city says it put equity and inclusiveness at the center of its downtown vision, but will have to overcome anger over the breakup of the bus hub and suspicion that bringing more amenities and visitors to the area is driven by a desire to remove poor people.
The city was slated to unveil the plan to the public at an online event Wednesday evening.
The second phase of the plan would focus on Waterplace Park, first by better connecting it to Kennedy Plaza.
The city wants to build an elevated walkway from Exchange Terrace over the parking lot behind the former Union Station building. Pedestrians would still have to cross Memorial Boulevard to get to the riverwalk.
It’s not entirely clear what will be done with the tunnel underneath Memorial Boulevard, which Arup principal Alban Bassuet described as “unsafe,” with “bad behavior happening there on a daily basis.”
At Waterplace Park, the city hopes to raise the current walkway around the river 11 feet to prevent it from flooding through the end of the century with seas level rise.
In the Waterplace park basin, the plan would build new seating and an island stage beneath the giant suspended ring.
As the riverwalk moves along the river, it would create “undulating walkways surrounded by native Rhode Island vegetation.”
City officials Wednesday did not have a breakdown the $140 million estimated price tag of the total project, or how much the Kennedy Plaza portion alone would cost.
Planning Director Bonnie Nickerson said the city hopes to begin work on the Kennedy Plaza portion of the plan next year.
She called the future park “a place of respite, a place to play, of beauty, a place to come together, to protest, to celebrate.”
Elorza said growing up, his family rarely came downtown, but he hopes by upgrading the plaza people will gather there spontaneously and say “let’s meet downtown; we’ll figure it out when we are there.”
On Twitter: @PatrickAnderso_