The Newport Spring Leadership Committee held a public meeting on Wednesday, July 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Edward King House.  The 80-plus community members in attendance were among the first to see the preliminary design for the Newport Spring Site, and following the presentation attendees were invited to share feedback about the plan.

Upon Neill Coffey’s decision to sell his former Citgo gas station, the Newport Spring Leadership Committee formed to ensure that the spring site and the neighborhood’s historic character were preserved.  “The property’s zoning would have allowed commercial development on the site, such as a four-story building or a modern gas station complete with an obtrusive fire-suppression canopy,” said Lilly Dick of the Leadership Committee.  In response to that possibility, numerous individual, foundation and corporate donors invested more than $1 million in the project to purchase the site, begin environmental remediation and develop the community-focused site plan presented at the meeting.

The vision for the site, as detailed in the preliminary site plan, will celebrate Newport’s legacy as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States.  Inscriptions marking that history, as well as the importance of the spring to Newport’s founding, are included in the design.  A water feature, evoking the spring’s continued activity at the site, is central to the design.  The future site will significantly increase the visual and physical linkages of many of Newport’s most treasured colonial sites and architectural treasures, including the Colony House and Touro Synagogue.  The new design will reconnect the site to Washington Square, Broadway, and the important historic structures on Touro Street, allowing for a greater pedestrian and bicycle accessibility in the area under significantly safer conditions. 

The preliminary site plan was guided by several years of research on the site conducted by experts in the fields of history, archaeology, landscape design and traffic and civil engineering.  The audience was particularly excited to learn about the initial results of the March 2018 archaeology study, which found that the underground structure on the site is indeed a “spring box” that is considered to be very old and part of Newport’s early water system.  A final report on the archaeology findings is expected soon, and the site’s design will both preserve the spring box and allow for its continued study in the future.  

The results of a multi-year traffic study also were presented, and experts found that there will be no change in stacking as a result of the proposed roadway changes.  Potential life-saving improvements will be made to the intersection of Touro and Spring Streets through realignment of the intersection to a normal three-way intersection, with a traffic light and the addition of accessible walkways and crosswalks, resulting in a normal and clarified traffic pattern and a reduction in the length of the intersection’s crosswalk by more than 75 feet.  These critical improvements will help Newport meet its goals of fostering a culture of shared streets and ensuring safe use for all, as stated in the city’s Open Space Plan that was adopted in 2017.  “While the new traffic pattern may feel like an inconvenience to some, extensive research has show that in reality it won’t add to drive times,” said Lilly Dick (or another committee member). “However, the drastically improved safety conditions will make our city friendlier to pedestrians, especially seniors, the disabled and small children, as well as cyclists and drivers.  Safety is so important — and an outcome I know our community values.”

This research was integrated with the goals for the preservation of the site around which the city was founded on the premise of religious freedom.  These objectives, which were developed through a multi-year public process, include preserving the site as open space in perpetuity and interpreting its historical significance in a manner that allows civic enjoyment, improves public pedestrian and motor vehicle safety and fosters cultural and economic vitality.  Also incorporated into the plan was feedback from community members, which was solicited at public meetings, through on-site surveys and via the project’s website throughout the process.

An aggressive timetable for the project’s completion has been set, with a projected dedication date of Spring 2020, and a fundraising campaign for the final stage of the project is being launched.  For further updates about the Newport Spring Project, the public is invited to visit its website, HistoricNewportTownSpring.org, and Facebook page, Facebook.com/historicnewportspring.

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