Seemingly out of the clear blue sky a completely new bus hub idea has suddenly emerged in Providence. The Innovation District Transit Center, it’s called. The reigning notion of shifting most buses from Kennedy Plaza to a pair of new sub hubs blocks away has not been popular. Most riders believe the bus hub should remain in the plaza. So instead of sticking with the decades-old tried and true, downtown advocates such as the Providence Foundation and Grow Smart RI now propose a whole new ballgame, popping in from far left field.
So far, neither city nor state has turned thumbs up or down on the proposal.
According to a Providence Journal article by Patrick Anderson and published last Thursday, the new proposed bus hub would sit near the Garrahy Court House, on a large parcel of parking lots at the intersection of Dorrance and Dyer streets, one block from the Providence River. It would be a multi-use facility expected to include shops, restaurants and 40 units of housing in a six-story brick building. Will it be affordable housing? “Workforce housing” says the plan.
A coalition of nonprofits and businesses are promoting a plan to move the bus berths in Kennedy Plaza inside a proposed six-story building containing a new full-service transit terminal. In addition to shops, restaurants, an indoor waiting area, public bathrooms and parking, the new $77-million terminal building would also have more than 40 apartments.
The proponents, who include Grow Smart RI and the Providence Foundation, came up with the plan after the state’s proposal to replace the Kennedy Plaza hub with three new facilities sparked outrage from city officials and advocates for transit riders.
I don’t recall reading of any such “outrage” from city officials, who seemed perfectly willing to buy into spending a $35 million state bond issue on items that the public did not vote for in 2014. Transit activists have all along deplored the heightened distances and rider confusion considered likely under the plan to split up Kennedy Plaza’s central role, with two new sub hubs at the train station and, as originally conceived, at the proposed Garrahy garage. The plaza’s future grows only cloudier under the latest plan. The plan’s visioneers want to “alleviate crowding” in Kennedy Plaza. Huh? What planet are they living on?
The six-story building’s design is traditional, and quite nice, not surprisingly so from the downtown firm of Union Studio Architecture. Union Studio’s plan of 2013 for Kennedy Plaza, which integrated an upgraded public square into the existing bus amenities, was frog-marched out of the picture in favor of a sterile redesign, implemented in 2015, that included removing the plaza’s Art Nouveau waiting kiosks and substituting highly unenchanting plastic kiosks.
Now Union Studio has been tapped to design the new terminal on Dorrance. Does this mean that its 2013 plan for Kennedy Plaza is now alive again? Or is it more of a quid pro quo for having been stiffed by the 2014 plaza redesign, which introduced maximum sterility into what was once a lovely civic square? A tug of war between traditional and modernist visions of downtown’s future seems to be in progress. Advocates of civic beauty have had little to applaud of late.
Kennedy Plaza is named after a dead white male, so it seems to be an obvious candidate for cancellation by today’s laughably woke municipal administration and its corporate backers.
That may seem over the top, but apparently the city is now planning to sell its beautiful statue of Christopher Columbus, recently removed, rather than storing it until the current mania has passed. Think of the most stupid ideas for how to move this city forward, and they are all being thrown at the wall to see if they stick. A cartoonish new entrance to Roger Williams Park is being erected at its Broad Street entrance. Kennedy Plaza and Waterplace have been targeted with kindergarten amenities – referred to absurdly as a “more vibrant and welcoming public space” by proponents. They would, for example, place an automatic rain maker above Waterplace (just what we need!), raise the river walks by eleven feet, and demolish a perfectly good skating rink at Burnside Park in favor of a curlicue rink in the plaza itself. They seem willing to destroy beautiful Providence rather than continue to stew in frustration at its privileged status among American cities of its size.
All of this churning just wastes money that could fund genuine necessities as we emerge from the pandemic. I wonder how much of the $35 million in bond money even remains after so many rounds of idiotic “planning” since 2014? Not enough to fund the $77 million Innovation District Transit Center, I dare say! (Gov. Dan McKee has wrinkled his nose at that cost figure.)
This city has rebounded in the past half century because it has tried (fitfully, to be sure) to retain its civilized legacy, most endearingly and enduringly via its traditional redesign of the waterfront by the late Bill Warner between 1990 and 1996. How the latest ideas for Kennedy Plaza and public transit fit into a scenario that seems eager to repudiate that history is anybody’s guess.