Seven years after initial plans were drafted to develop a park along the west waterfront of the Providence River, recent construction in the Jewelry District — including several University buildings — has altered those design plans. The new park will offer a grassy space with access to the river and outdoor programming that will strengthen connections between College Hill and downtown Providence.
The city held a design competition to initiate a vision for the park in 2006, but the design has since evolved because “the conditions around this park have changed so much,” said Bonnie Nickerson, director of long-range planning for Providence.
“Originally the design didn’t take into account the context, because the context was unknown,” she said.
The biggest change the commission made to the park plans was selecting a “parcel” from the initial allotment to offer for commercial development, Nickerson said.
The 1.4-acre parcel has the potential to be developed into 3,000 square-feet of space, said Colin Kane, chairman of the I-195 Redevelopment Commission. Due to this change, open land for the park on the west side of the river has now decreased from a 6-acre lot to a 4.5-acre lot, but there is still potential for a “very large park for an urban setting,” he said.
The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission was formed in 2011, and legislation allocated ownership of the park to the commission until the end of its 20-year charter, Nickerson said. When the commission dissolves in 2031, ownership will be turned over to the city, she added.
“What is happening is a real partnership between the commission and the city in the development of this park space,” Nickerson said.
Construction of the park will be another step in creating a “city walk” — a route, including a pedestrian bridge over the Providence River, that will connect sections of the neighborhood, said Arthur Salisbury, president of the Jewelry District Association.
While the city has not formally accepted the idea for the city walk, the association has a meeting scheduled with Mayor Angel Taveras in March, he added.
The goal is to “create a seamless connection within that part of Providence,” said Lambri Zerva, design project manager for the I-195 relocation project.
The pedestrian bridge will likely encourage more Brown students to walk down College Hill and into the Jewelry District, where the University already has a presence through the Alpert Medical School, said Mike McCormick, assistant vice president of planning design and construction. Historically, there has been a disconnect between the main campus and University buildings in the Jewelry District.
“It’s not how long the walk is, but it’s how long the walk feels,” McCormick said. The park will “shorten the perception of the distance.”
“We see this as being a chain of public spaces that will start to connect the Jewelry District to the College Hill,” he said.
“Not only does it make the area much nicer, but it improves the Jewelry District and the area that we have a lot of people in,” McCormick said. He added that the park will “improve the street life and everyday atmosphere.”
While designs have not been finalized, the Jewelry District Association plans to incorporate child-friendly play structures into the park and develop cafes and retail shops along the walk, Salisbury said.
The association is also creating venues in the park to host summer events such as farmers’ markets, shows and performances and allocating open grass for other outdoor activities.
The three design teams collaborating on the waterfront development presented the reformed park concept to the commission in November, and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has since created more detailed plans, Nickerson said.
The commission hopes to see the park ready for construction by summer 2014 and open to the public within 18 months, in late 2015, Nickerson said.
The city has set aside $3.8 million for the park, according to Providence Business News. The funding will come from the I-195 project budget, which was funded by the sale of other parcels of I-195 land, Zerva said.
“People have very much endorsed what we’re doing with the park,” Kane said. “We just need them to understand it’s a patient process, but we’re all working hard to get there.”