Kennedy Plaza, the main square and transportation hub of Providence, will undergo renovations in the next few years as a part of Mayor Angel Taveras’ efforts to revitalize downtown.
The Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy is slated to start construction this year. The plans — designed by Union Studio Architects — entail filling space in the plaza made available by reducing bus traffic with a marketplace and more park space. The renovation plan took six years of collaboration with Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, local businesses, universities, residents and city departments.
The plans also call for integrating the skating rink into Burnside Park to provide the area with an off-season function, raising roadways to increase pedestrian safety and developing a large open area described as a “front porch for City Hall,” according to a DPPC press release.
The reduced number of buses running through the plaza was meant to create a “pleasant” RIPTA rider experience through a “safe, accessible system,” according to the press release.
The initial phases of the project, including the changes to the bus station and construction of the “porch” in front of City Hall, could be completed as early as 2014.
Funding for architectural work by Union Studios came from a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant. In addition, city and state funds will go into the first stages of renovation.
RIPTA’s Director of Planning and Marketing Amy Pettine said the plan was still in a conceptual phase and would require additional planning. “When the city gets into finalizing details, we’ll be at the table,” she said, adding that there will be public hearings on the vision for the plaza in May and June.
“We want to make customers a part of the progress and seek their feedback,” she said.
Some Brown students say that the plaza could use a major upgrade.
“I go there a lot,” said Elizabeth Adler ’15, “It’s awful there.” In its current state, little concern is given to pedestrians, she said. “Getting there, you have to cross some streets without lights.”
Yuki Davis ’15 said the bus station should be improved. As is, the station offers very little space for individuals waiting for a bus.
“When it’s raining, there’s always a million people in there,” she said.
“It’s the main gateway to the city, and the civic center of the city,” said Professor of Sociology Hilary Silver, adding that it serves as a venue for information exchange between the city’s poorer citizens. “Nobody in the business community sees this function of Kennedy Plaza,” Silver said.
Silver said she believes the Kennedy Plaza renovation is foremost an effort to attract renters to the “Superman” building, recently vacated by Bank of America. “It represents the state of Rhode Island. It’s our signature building. We have to sell it. We can’t knock it down.”
Despite the removal of some buses, “the plaza will continue to be a major transportation hub,” Pettine said. Typically people are concerned there will not be as many buses, and therefore RIPTA will become less convenient.
“We’re reducing our physical space, but not reducing our service,” Pettine said.
RIPTA recently conducted a Comprehensive Operation Analysis to evaluate the transit experience in and around Providence. RIPTA looked at market analyses and travel patterns, while taking into consideration about 10,000 rider surveys in order to assess which routes needed to be changed, Pettine said.
Kennedy Plaza today does not meet the needs of RIPTA riders or those looking for a downtown experience, Pettine said. “It is not optimal,” she said.
“In city planning, you want density. You want that buzz, you want people on the street,” Professor Silver said. “To create a beautiful aesthetic center of town that no one uses, I’m not sure that’s what is in the cities’ best interest.”
— Additional reporting by Mark Valdez