State of the City: Officials discuss upcoming projects

By Sean Flynn  Newport Daily News staff writer | Posted Mar 30, 2019 at 6:19 PM > Updated Mar 30, 2019 at 6:19 PM (Link to story)

Left to Right - City Manager Joe Nicholson, Mayor Jamie Bova, and Council Vice President Susan Taylor - March 28, 2019 - Photo Credit - Chip Leakas
Left to Right – City Manager Joe Nicholson, Mayor Jamie Bova, and Council Vice President Susan Taylor – March 28, 2019 – Photo Credit – Chip Leakas

At an event held at City Hall, topics covered included the Pell Bridge ramps redesign, the former Newport Grand property and the Naval Hospital land.

NEWPORT — Major projects pending in the city’s near future — from the redesign of the Pell Bridge ramps to free up land for an Innovation District, to the redevelopment of Newport Grand, to the creation of a new use at the Naval Hospital property and a new waterfront park there — were the focus of the State of the City discussion this past week.

Mayor Jamie Bova and City Council Vice Chairwoman Susan Taylor, assisted by City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., led the presentations at the event sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group, at City Hall Thursday night.

The state Department of Transportation has completed an environmental assessment that details the purposes of the Pell Bridge ramp project, the alternatives analyzed and the project’s impacts.

Taylor said she was in contact with Jody Richards, the state Department of Transportation’s project manager, as recently as Thursday afternoon. Richards told Taylor that the Federal Highway Administration is reviewing the assessment and seven alternative design plans.

“RIDOT has a favorite plan, but they are keeping it close to the vest,” Taylor said.

Of the total budget for the project, 80 percent will be funded by the federal government and 20 percent by the state, so the federal agency has a lot of say in the matter. Once the Federal Highway Administration approves the assessment and a plan, there will be another public process and review of the targeted plan before RIDOT engineers begin the final design, Taylor said.

“They are planning to go out for bids in the fall of 2020,” she said.

“When it’s done, we will have space to continue building a new economy and make it so that it is good for our residents in the neighborhood,” Bova said.

Taylor pointed out the city is within an arc formed by marine science research centers at the University of Rhode Island and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Rising seas and other effects of climate change will be at the forefront of research at these and other institutions, and marine-related technologies and necessary changes in infrastructure will be developed by commercial firms as a result of this research. City officials want Newport to be able to tap into this.

“We have incredible resources in this region,” Taylor said.

Nicholson has been calling it the “blue economy,” she said, and the city will be exploring possibilities that could be developed in the freed-up acreage near the bridge.

Bova said Innovate Newport, the new technology center in the reconstructed Sheffield School, “will be a beacon for the North End Innovation District.” The center, after some delays, is scheduled for a public opening in May, she said.

Before the Pell Bridge project begins, though, the state is planning to do some reconstruction and repaving of Connell Highway, the city officials said.

“I think anyone who has driven down the highway in the past few months knows it is in serious need of work,” Nicholson said.

RIDOT will go out for bids on that work this fall and begin construction in 2020, the officials said.

Plans for the Newport Grand property will be coming soon, Kelly MacArthur Coates, president and chief operating officer of the Carpionato Group of Johnston, told The Daily News in a telephone call on Saturday.

During the State of the City discussion, Nicholson noted the “For Lease” sign out front of the property and the apparent test pits.

“I would think the residents of Newport should be concerned if we did not have a ‘For Lease’ sign out front,” Coates said. “We are, of course, looking for tenants unless Amazon were moving there and that is not happening.”

He said both test pits and test borings have been made on the 23-acre property.

“We want to know the geological makeup of the site, the capacity of the soil for bearing loads and everything else,” Coates said. “We are doing traffic studies, engineering studies, drainage studies, marketing studies and whatever other investigative work is required. Any project requires a lot of advance work.”

He was asked if the former Newport Grand building would be coming down.

“I think that is the right thing for the site,” Coates said. “But this project will require multiple permits and approvals, so we will be working with the city.”

Asked about the plans for site, Coates said, “Look at our portfolio, what we have done in the past.”

The company has specialized in retail complexes, hotels, offices and mixed-use developments. “That’s a good description of it,” Coates said.

Adjacent to the Newport Grand property is the city’s waste transfer station and public works yard and offices, along Halsey Street. That is a challenge for development, Coates said.

The city has talked about using future bond money to relocate the public services yard, which will be difficult. “Nobody wants it next to them,” Coates said.

The city’s planned purchase of the abandoned Navy Hospital on Third Street continues to be on hold but remains a city priority, said Nicholson.

“Here’s the deal,” Nicholson said early on when the topic came up. “Lead testing will begin in late March, weather permitting, BRAC told me. It has not begun yet.”

BRAC stands for Base Realignment and Closure and is the congressionally authorized process for disposing of surplus military properties.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency informed the Navy in late 2017 that it could not sell the hospital property to the city until it cleaned up the lead contamination on the site, Nicholson said. That could be a two- to three-year process, he was told.

That caught city officials by surprise because the city believed the Navy’s final environmental impact statement was completed and hired an appraisal firm earlier in 2017 to set a value on the hospital property.

Since the Navy declared the hospital site surplus property in February 2010, the city has eyed the parcel for economic development purposes, but it looks like the wait will continue for awhile.

Nicholson said he walked the Navy Hospital land last week and he talked about the beauty of the waterfront section as a future park.

“It will be magnificent when we get our hands on the property,” he said.

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Official seal of Newport, Rhode Island
Official seal of Newport, Rhode Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




When: WEDNESDAY, March 5, 2014 – 6:00PM – 7:30PM


Where: Assembly Room of the Newport Police Station – 120 Broadway, Newport RI 02840




Public Forum


Citizens may address the Commission on all matters pertaining to the Charter Review. The Charter Review Commission requests the time of comments for each person be limited to five minutes. Questions and discussion may extend the time limit at the discretion of the Commission.


Of particular interest to the Charter Review Commission are the following issues:


  • The way we elect our mayor
  • Whether or not to eliminate the wards and have all City Councilors elected at large
  • Term limits and staggered terms for the School Committee and City Council
  • Election vs. appointment of the School Committee
  • The roles and responsibilities of the Mayor and City Manager
  • How Boards and Commission function, among other operating functions of City government.


If time allows, the Commission will proceed with items to do with a regularly scheduled business meeting.


  • Roll call
  • Determination of quorum
  • Approval of the minutes from the January 29, February 5 and February 19 meetings


NEW Business


  • Format for presentation of Charter changes to the Newport City Council
  • Assignment of Charter section changes to Commission members for presentation to City Council


A copy of the current City Charter is available for review in the City Clerk’s Office, or may be viewed at Click on Codified Ordinances.


For more information on the public hearing, contact:


Newport Charter Review Commission – Isabel Griffith, Chair








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Can Culture Have Role in Newport City Charter?

By Tom Walsh  (read more) Newport This Week

Amid a polite but intensive discussion on Feb. 5 about how the city manager, mayor and the rest of the City Council should manage themselves in conducting public business, there was this comment from Isabel Griffith, the Charter Review Commission’s chairperson:

“The Council works the way it does now not because of language in the charter but from the culture of the council,” she said. “The way they do things is something that has been passed down.” The city of Newport, she said, has a culture all its own.

Official seal of Newport, Rhode Island
Official seal of Newport, Rhode Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question is this: Can the nine members of the Charter Review Commission figure out a way to revise the city charter without stepping on the city’s historic culture?

This ticklish problem hovered over the commission’s discussion of how—or whether—to revise the charter to better address the way the city manager, the mayor (who is actually the chairman of the City Council) and the other six councilors communicate with and among themselves and the public.

Among various definitions, Webster defines “culture” as something “that depends upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”

All of this became important to the review commission last week as it considered apparent management shortcomings in the way council members, including the mayor and City Manager Jane Howington, communicate on city business. Howington told the panel that councilors often go straight to city department heads with requests and directives.

“It’s like having seven bosses,” she said. There was no disagreement that such a system would appear to be inefficient and troubling to manage.

However, Mayor Henry F. Winthrop said there is a certain political reality to the way things work. “If you need something done, you call your city councilor,” he said. “That’s not going to go away. We’re driven by the need to respond to citizens’ concerns.” But he could also see the management problems that arise. “When a council member tells department staff to do something, they drop everything without regard to directions they may have from the city manager,” Winthrop said.

Commission member Terry Nathan said flatly, “There’s a management problem here that relates to the ability of the city manager to function as the city’s chief operating officer.” He added, “It’s okay to talk to everyone but you have to have a way to act and get things done.”

While emphasizing that “I don’t want to suggest that people can’t talk to other people,” Howington also declared that “making us more effective is the role of the council.”

In an interview this week, Griffith, the Charter Review Commission chairperson, said the charter is a document that is “specific but also very broad. You can’t use the city charter to change peoples’ minds. It’s not designed to make people do what they don’t want to do.”

The charter, she said, can specify such things as how a mayor is elected, terms of office, and years when elections take place. “But you can’t use the charter to change peoples’ behavior.” She said a charter cannot create commissions. “That’s a policy matter. The council does that.” She also agreed that the commission may be limited in defining how people in government communicate, as it could violate the constitutional right to freedom of speech. “You just can’t do that,” she said.

Griffith said she likes Newport’s form of government the way it is. As for the city’s “culture,” she said, “People don’t like surprises. That’s part of the culture.” As an example, she cited the furor over changes that were made to Queen Anne’s Square. “Some people have still not forgiven Newport government for that,” she said.

“It’s about tradeoffs,” Griffith continued. “I like being governed by a committee rather than by one or two people who get to say what’s happening all by themselves. I’ll sacrifice efficiency for the comfort we have in the way things are done here.”

Last week, Griffith’s view of things prevailed in a 4-2 straw vote on a motion “not to change the duties of the mayor” as currently provided by charter. Nathan and William Kimes voted against the motion. Griffith, Mary Ann Marin, David Martland and Charles Y. Duncan supported it. Sarah Atkins and Lauren Carson abstained.

“Our members are all very thoughtful and they have their own ideas,” Griffith said. “We are not in consensus right now.”


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Isabel Griffith of ALN appointed chairwoman for Charter Review Commission

Charter review panel is urged to deal with ‘hot button’ issues 

By Sean Flynn  Staff writer

Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop opened the first meeting of the new city Charter Review Commission on Wednesday night by urging the members not to shy away from “hot button” issues.

“You should not have preconceived ideas,” he said. “For example, should we have an appointed School Committee instead of an elected School Committee?”

John Shehan, chairman of the city’s Historic District Commission and an observer at the meeting, suggested another topic sure to cause debate. He said the new commission should consider whether local voters should elect a mayor instead of City Council members choosing one of their colleagues for that role.

“A city of this importance should be electing a mayor,” Shehan said. He said he applied to serve on the Charter Review Commission but was not chosen by the council.

Isabel Griffith
Isabel Griffith

Six of the nine members of the new commission were present and they elected Isabel Griffith chairwoman. She is a former president of the Alliance for a Livable Newport and the Point Association, neighborhood advocacy groups.

Mary Ann Marin was chosen vice chairwoman. She served as chairwoman of the Newport Hospitality Commission for about seven years, beginning in 1993.

Attorney David P. Martland was elected secretary. The other three members present included former   
City Councilman Charles Y. Duncan, Rogers High School teacher Bill Kimes and Sarah Atkins, an employee of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and former Newport program director for Social Venture Partners Rhode Island.

Absent were members Lauren Carson, a member of the city’s Energy and Environment Commission; Patrick K. Kelley, former chairman of the School Committee; and Terry Nathan, president of the Inter-national Yacht Restoration School.

The new commission will meet the first and third Wednesdays of the month beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Newport Public Library. Each meeting will begin with a public comment period.

The commission members are expected to have their recommendations completed by April so they can be presented at the City Council’s regularly scheduled meeting on April 23, 2014.

If the council adopts any of the proposed changes, local voters would approve or reject them in a referendum that would be on the ballot on Nov. 4, 2014.

Winthrop proposed in June that School Committee members be appointed by the City Council.

“This would open up the process to allow people who have qualifications to serve on the School Committee, and not require them to run in an election,” he said at the time.

The City Council last had a Charter Review Commission in 2007, and voters in November 2008 approved all 23 proposed changes, many of them minor. The charter change that attracted the most attention that year was allowing the police chief and the fire chief to be hired from outside the ranks of the local police and fire departments. Until then, the charter permitted only Newport police officers and firefighters to be considered for those jobs.

The last Charter Review Commission also briefly considered the idea of an appointed School Committee.

Robert J. Leary, then the School Committee vice chairman and currently a School Committee member, said at a commission meeting on Sept. 28, 2007, it should explore whether the School Committee should be appointed by the City Council instead of being elected by voters.

Opponents to such a change sometimes ask who would appoint the City Council members.

Duncan took that thought process a step further Wednesday night.

“Maybe the School Committee should appoint the City Council,” he said.


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