By Ronald Lee Fleming
Over 130 people turned out last week to begin the battle for the historic soul of Newport’s great mansions. On one side – the Preservation Society of Newport County, which has abandoned its core values for the lure of big bucks that an intrusive entertainment center may deliver. On the other – a community of people who care about The Breakers, and all our great landmarks, committed to preserving Newport’s historic integrity.
The fight is an unfortunate one, since the neighbors have already proposed, quite reasonably, to place the visitors’ center across the street, off the hallowed ground of The Breakers.
But the Preservation Society has something else in mind. There’s big money to be made by violating the integrity of The Breakers. Why else would they spend over $1 million on legal fees, public relations and a parade of consultants (with a fundraising target of $5.9 million) to obtain what they describe as mere bathrooms and vending machines? Bathrooms could have been upgraded long ago and placed in the parking lot. Newport’s other cultural organizations would happily collaborate on an information center in the commercial heart of our city with the digital sophistication seen at Monticello, benefiting downtown business and reducing traffic.
No. The goal, beyond toilets and tickets, is clearly a commercialized center to increase the Society’s bottom line, to the detriment of taxpaying businesses and the neighborhood. Once this happens at The Breakers, every landmark in Newport will be at risk for harmful development.