Splash Park and Mister Part of Vision for Reimagined Downtown
Plan calls for parts of Kennedy Plaza to become pedestrian-only areas
March 11, 2021
PROVIDENCE — A new vision for downtown is starting to crystalize.
In a Wednesday morning virtual presentation to media, city officials and Alban Bassuet, project manager for Arup, a London-based planning firm, gave a glimpse of what they have been working on since their last public presentation late last year.
In December, presenters asked what the public was looking for in a reimagined downtown, with suggestions ranging from outdoor exercise parks to areas for performers and more activities. Transit, what with the impending dispersal of Kennedy Plaza, was also a hot topic.
Now, more concrete plans for what is in the works are on the table. Bassuet clicked through slides that show an extensive overhaul of the Kennedy Plaza, Exchange Terrace, and Waterplace Park area.
“We led the process by consulting with the community regularly, but we’ve also taken a good, hard look at existing infrastructure in the city and what may need to be upgraded,” Bassuet said during the March 10 presentation.
One component of this area that the team started with was Kennedy Plaza, which Basseut described as “a big, vast, open public space.”
“There are very few of those in the United States, which we think means it very much needs to be protected,” he said. “But some of the problem with Kennedy Plaza is the direct overlap of buses, cars, and pedestrians, which is making the area very unsafe.”
To mitigate this and to make Kennedy Plaza safer and more welcoming for everyone who passes through, Bassuet and his team are proposing to create a pedestrian-only section of the plaza.
“We’re proposing to route the downtown-uptown bus traffic on Fulton Street, which will allow us to close permanently Washington Street and the east approach and make those two areas part of a bigger pedestrian area.”
In addition to being more pedestrian friendly, the ice rink at Kennedy Plaza has been reimagined to have a more sinuous shape and, in the summer, would be transformed into a water park with splash area and cooling misters. There are also plans for shade structures, computer access, space for a farmers market, warming areas, and drug-addiction service centers.
City officials noted that while they aren’t involved in the state’s plan to disperse the central bus hub at Kennedy Plaza, they are designing around that concept. In a Nov. 5 online pep talk about the Multi-Hub Bus System plan led by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, Mayor Jorge Elorza noted his support for the concept and gave assurances that transit concerns would be addressed through additional public input and meetings.
Moving beyond Kennedy Plaza, Bassuet showcased a big change to the current tunnel that connects Kennedy Plaza to Waterplace Park.
“Yes, the tunnel does provide a quick access to the River Walk … but it’s very unsafe, a lot of negative behavior happens there on a daily basis,” Bassuet said. “It’s very uninviting, not very many people know about it, and we just don’t see this as a great connection to the River Walk.”
Instead of relying on the tunnel to bring pedestrians to Waterplace Park, the Arup team has proposed an overground connecting link.
“The third big move … is to not use the tunnel anymore to access the River Walk,” Bassuet said. “We are actually proposing to access the River Walk by providing a crossing over this parking area … which we like to describe as a mini-High Line.”
The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park and greenway created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan.
Arup’s Providence mockups show a lush, verdant bridge that makes the trek across Memorial Boulevard safe, easy, and enjoyable.
There will also be changes to the River Walk and Waterplace Park area itself, which is showing signs of flooding and disrepair. This recommended work includes elevating certain sections and installing riparian buffers to mitigate future climate disruptions.
The “crown jewel” of the Waterplace Park redesign is an idea for a large ring that hangs over the basin that will rain down a cloud of cooling mist.
“We’ve imagined a mist experiential feature that will be hovering over the basin and producing mist during the day and night, as a symbol of Providence’s revitalization,” Bassuet said.
These conceptual designs for the revitalization of downtown are expected to be posted online and the Arup team is welcoming any and all public feedback. The project is expected to cost about $140 million and would be built in phases, with hopes that the first phase would begin next year.