On the streets surrounding the newly construction-fenced Kennedy Plaza, familiar faces wait in new locations for buses to neighborhoods across the state.
They’ve moved to Exchange Street and across Burnside Park as part of a $2.4 million rearrangement of the R.I. Public Transit Authority bus hub that city leaders expect will trigger the latest evolution of Providence’s historical central square.
The vision, outlined in a public presentation at the Providence Biltmore Hotel 15 months ago by the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, would make the plaza a popular public gathering place with new amenities and a better connection to Burnside Park.
Unfortunately, the work beginning now to disperse buses in the plaza represents the bulk of currently available funding for plans that, at their most grand, would likely cost up to $25 million.
As a result, municipal officials and downtown-parks advocates face a long road from the temporary construction headaches and workarounds confronting residents now to something that actually draws people to the city center.
Already the plan is drawing fire from transit advocates concerned about the disruption to bus service and architecture critics seeing a bait-and-switch from renderings from Union Studio architects unveiled at the Biltmore.
To these concerns, proponents of changing Kennedy Plaza say the original Union Studio designs have not been abandoned, but were always more concepts than plans. And rebooting the RIPTA bus terminal is an essential platform to get to those grander designs.
“When we gave our presentation at the Biltmore, we gave our vision of things that could happen in that space similar to other places that have improved,” said Cliff Wood, executive director of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy. “To do all those things would be cost prohibitive, and there were a series of visions that may not pass community muster.”
While it waits for the plaza to be rebuilt, the conservancy experiments with programs for Burnside Park and raises money through grants and donations for larger future plaza improvements. This fall it expects to begin work on a park walkway to Exchange Street with a $395,000 grant from the Champlin Foundations.