Restoration of historic Newport site in the works

Posted 10/12/12

NEWPORT – Plans to revitalize the city’s historic civic center at Washington Square and replace a gas station there with a park and monument to Rhode Island’s Royal Charter are moving ahead.

Architect John Grosvenor, a leader of the Washington Square Roots community group pursuing the plan, said the owner of the gas station has agreed to a purchase price and negotiations over petroleum-related cleanup are all that remain to reach a sale.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, is acting on behalf of Washington Square Roots to acquire the gas station, which sits at a confusing five-way intersection across the street from the historic Colony House.

The owner of the Texaco gas station, Neil Coffey, confirmed Friday that talks over a sale are ongoing and said he supported Square Roots’ goals for the area.

The land sits near the site where the Royal Charter of 1663, which recognized the colony of Rhode Island and enshrined in it then unprecedented religious freedoms, was read in public for the first time.

Grosvenor, principal of Northeast Collaborative Architects, would like to tear down the gas station and unearth the spring underneath it that made the site the city’s historic focal point. He would also make a public square with a historic monument to the charter, something he said would bolster the city’s bid for recognition as a world heritage site.

Grosvenor said changes to traffic patterns at the intersection are also being discussed and eventually the square may be turned over to the city.

Cognizant of getting community feedback on the plan, community leaders are holding a “charette,” or public workshop, Oct. 19 and 20, to collect ideas for the entire Washington Square area from residents.

Next August will mark the 350-year anniversary of the charter, and Grosvenor said if all goes well, he hopes to have work on the new “Charter Square” started by that time.

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