PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence has unveiled new plans and images of a redesigned Kennedy Plaza and downtown area, a longtime goal of Mayor Jorge Elorza to expand activities and make the area more suitable for pedestrians.
The preliminary proposal — designed by private firm Arup — includes more open space for events and performances, a relocated ice rink that turns into a “splash zone” in the summer, and a covered area in Kennedy Plaza dubbed the “big shade” that could host a café, fire pit, bathrooms, farmers market and social services for the homeless.
“This is a big moment for our city,” Elorza said in a Zoom call with reporters. “We know our Kennedy Plaza space has been the center of our city geographically, but it’s never really been the center of our city culturally.”
Beyond Kennedy Plaza, Arup has envisioned an above-ground pedestrian connection between the plaza and the riverwalk area, which could be like a mini version of New York City’s “High Line.”
The riverwalk itself and Waterplace Park would also be redesigned under the proposal, with new performance spaces, a ring that emits mist above the water basin, and pathways that are more accessible to bikes and people with disabilities. The area would also be raised to accommodate future sea level rise.
Alban Bassuet of Arup told reporters on Wednesday the firm’s analysis of the Kennedy Plaza area is that it’s unsafe because of the intermingling of buses, cars and pedestrians. There’s also not enough to do there and little vegetation, but the plaza is a unique asset that could be used for events and social supports, Bassuet said.
The designs prepared by the firm move some of the bus stop locations to the outer edges of Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park, rather than having bus lanes cut through the center on Washington Street. The design would create a more contiguous space in the middle for activities and events.
The proposed designs are being presented at a virtual public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Arup is being paid $1.8 million for its contract with the city to design the infrastructure changes.
The designs are still conceptual, with more specifics expected to be fleshed out in the spring before the city goes out to bid for construction. The first phase — Kennedy Plaza — is expected to be constructed in 2022, according to the Elorza administration.
Future phases are likely to take place under a new mayor, and a timeline has not been determined. The entire project is estimated to cost $140 million. The city currently has $16 million set aside from capital improvement funds and grants from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
The redesign of Kennedy Plaza is happening in conjunction with a new multi-hub bus plan by the R.I. Department of Transportation and the R.I. Public Transit Authority. The plan would move some buses out of the Kennedy Plaza hub, creating three smaller hubs throughout the city. Under the current iteration of the plan, Kennedy Plaza would still have six bus berths.
“We want this space to continue to be a transit hub,” said Bonnie Nickerson, the city’s planning director. “We’re adding a number of new amenities for transit riders in the space.”
While the plan aims to make downtown easier for pedestrians and cyclists, Bassuet said no street parking spaces are expected to be eliminated, and the shifting of bus stops would create new free space on Fulton Street that could be used for parking or for a designated drop-off area for people taking Uber or Lyft downtown.