Friends of Newport Preservation has requested that Governor Gina Raimondo intervene in the review process for a controversial plan regarding The Breakers.
On Monday, the group wrote the Governor regarding the “decision of the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) allowing the Preservation Society of Newport County (PSNC) to construct a commercial ‘welcome center’ on the grounds of The Breakers in Newport.”
Calling the plan “misguided” the group said placing the building in the parking lot across the street from the mansion was an alternative that was “essential to preserve Rhode Island’s most famous national historic landmark.” The letter was delivered in advance of a scheduled meeting of the RIHPHC Wednesday, May 10 at 9:30 AM.
Newport residents, national experts and advocates for authentic preservation have consistently highlighted the fundamental flaws with the proposal throughout the process, but have been ignored, said Donald Christ of the Friends Group. The letter says the National Park Service (NPS) was silenced by fierce lobbying by the Preservation Society when red flags were raised over the visitor center plan. The letter says that the concerns of the NPS and the public have never been addressed.
Politics has marred the approval process at the RIHPHC for years, the group said. The commission has become “an advocate for the visitor center plan, rather than acting independently,” states the letter. “It’s clear that the visitor center approval process at the RIHPHC has been compromised,” added Donald Christ. “The measures put in place to protect Newport’s crown jewel and Rhode Island’s historic assets have regrettably proven inadequate. We’re asking the Governor to act before it’s too late.”
The Friends Group says that they have put forward a reasonable compromise solution of placing the visitor center in the parking lot across from The Breakers, but has received no response from the Society. The group states in its letter, “Sadly, in keeping with the corporate culture of the Society, what is best for The Breakers, Newport and Rhode Island is no longer a priority.”
“The Breakers is a symbol of Newport’s Gilded Age and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Rhode Island every year,” said Maureen Donnell of the Friends Group. “If left to stand, the Preservation Society’s proposal will dramatically alter the grounds and irreversibly damage to The Breakers.”
The group has requested that the Governor review the proposal, and the process. “Ideally, we could all work together to develop an alternative plan that preserves and protects The Breakers while still meeting visitor needs,” added Donald Christ. “Rhode Island’s reputation and ultimately it’s potential for cultural tourism is on the line.”
The Preservation Society of Newport County did not respond immediately to our request for comment, this story will be updated if they do.