Metro, News

Kennedy Plaza to be redesigned

Proposed renovations to consolidate Biltmore and Burnside parks, facilitate community gathering

Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Providence’s central bus hub, Kennedy Plaza, will undergo another facelift, announced Mayor Jorge Elorza on Aug. 31. The announcement comes less than three years after the last renovations of Kennedy Plaza, which cost the city $1.7 million in bond money plus a $700,000 federal grant. The city estimated the current plan would cost $5 million.

The newest redesign would consolidate the Biltmore and Burnside parks into a continuous space, introduce shaded seating and public art and eventually include a redesign of the Alex and Ani City Center ice rink to convert it into a better community gathering space.

The mayor hopes that the changes will make the plaza a place for the Providence community to grow, said press secretary Victor Morente. Morente added that public spaces are a big part of Providence’s identity.

Superintendent of the Providence Parks and Recreation Department, Wendy Nilsson, hopes that Kennedy Plaza will grow as both a local and tourist destination for New England and beyond. By combining all the smaller parks, Kennedy Plaza “will become a unified, open space, while still maintaining each smaller park’s individual identity,” Nilsson said.

With deferred maintenance and volunteer work — including cleaning up park benches, light posts and railings — the new Kennedy Plaza will “make the whole area pop,” she added.

City officials worked with local organizations, such as the Providence Downtown Neighborhood Association, to ensure everyone in the community had the opportunity to express their thoughts on the new plans. The Providence Parks and Recreation Department held seven meetings with the Downtown Neighborhood Association to “develop downtown as a type of backyard” to the community, Nilsson said.

The city’s Depart of Planning and Development Department also held two workshops and community meetings where citizens could voice their opinions on the plan .

City planners worked with community members and Rhode Island Public Transit Authority officials to create new city bus routes, as the plans will restructure current bus routes to combine the plaza’s two parks. RIPTA’s Director of Public Affairs, Barbara Polichetti, said however that RIPTA had not yet determined the new routes.

“What we do know is that (the city is) proposing two-way bus traffic on Washington Street, and that it would be (public) transit only,” as opposed to its current system, which stretches one way and allows cars to travel on it, Polichetti said. “That is what we will be looking to maximize and make most advantageous for transit.”

RIPTA said it would help the city to make its vision a reality, but its primary focus remains on providing passengers access to buses.

With the revitalization, Providence aims to create the type of community spaces seen in other American metropoles.

“If you look at major cities like (New York City) and Chicago, they have one huge public area where people meet, and Kennedy Plaza very much has the potential to be (a space similar to) that,” Morente said.

The city has not yet set a timeline for the Kennedy Plaza reconstruction’s completion.