Greater City Providence

Champlin Foundation grant to fund gateway project at Burnside Park


From the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy:

$395,000 Champlin Foundations Grant Awarded to Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy’s Kennedy Plaza Project

Funds will build a pedestrian gateway within Burnside Park

The Champlin Foundations recently granted $395,000 to the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (DPPC) and The Providence Foundation to create a pedestrian gateway within Burnside Park. This significant investment will fund a detailed design and reconstruction of the park’s northeast corner, which is a critical element of capital improvement in Greater Kennedy Plaza. An attractive new entrance by the Burnside statue and a corresponding footpath will encourage more varied, healthy activities in our downtown public spaces. By ensuring that the passageway remains safe, clean and well-lit, this project will allow travelers to easily walk through the park on their way from the train station to the RIPTA bus hub, strengthening this connection. Construction is scheduled to begin next spring, with completion expected in late summer 2014.

First proposed during a community charrette led by international placemaking experts at the Project for Public Spaces in 2008, this gateway improvement project is one of several transformative changes planned within Greater Kennedy Plaza next year. The city of Providence has committed $1.7 million from its downtown circulator project to reconfigure traffic patterns around the parks. With support from RIPTA, plans call for the relocation of bus berths to the outside of Kennedy Plaza to make way for a pedestrian plaza and market.

“I thank The Champlin Foundations for this generous funding to advance our efforts to revitalize Greater Kennedy Plaza and make downtown Providence a more vibrant, cultural and commercial gateway to our capital city,” said Mayor Angel Taveras. “Working together with our partners, we are improving our downtown public spaces and providing more opportunities for visitors, businesses and residents to enjoy them.”

Cliff Wood, executive director of the DPPC, added, “We are so thankful to The Champlin Foundations for this important award. It moves our theory of the gateway into reality. Every major city needs a place where people can congregate, and a strong public-private partnership is required to manage that space. With energized support from our government officials and robust capital partner investments that prioritize the transformation of Greater Kennedy Plaza, we can ensure this project’s success. We have been fortunate to have both.”

With a small staff and limited budget, the DPPC has benefited from major grants for programming and infrastructure in recent years. Following the principle of ‘the power of 10’ espoused by the Project for Public Spaces to activate the public realm, the DPPC has sponsored weekly summer events in Burnside Park, ranging from mid-morning storytime to after work concerts. In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts gave $200,000 to a coalition that included the DPPC for programming and public space improvements. These funds helped to organize a large-scale multi-stage event, the FirstWorks Festival on the Plaza, which engaged the public with live performances by 200 artists in September 2012. This summer, Southwest Airlines funded the construction of an Imagination Center, equipped with children’s books and play areas, to make the area more welcoming to families.

To date, the grant from The Champlin Foundations is the largest single contribution to the DPPC. Since 1932, The Champlin Foundations have distributed nearly $480 million to tax exempt organizations for capital needs. They aim to support Rhode Island based organizations that have the greatest impact on a broad segment of the population.

[box style=”alert”]First paragraph of release updated to reflect that the Champlin Grant only applies to work within Burnside Park. RIPTA is planning a separate project to make improvements along Exchange Street between Exchange Terrace and the train station.[/alert]

[alert type=”warning”]Full disclosure: I am a member of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy board.[/alert]

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I wonder why they’re doing this since you can just cut through Waterplace to get to the train station. That needs to be better lit and cleared throughout the winter.

  • Why is the vacant parcel next to the train station by The Cove apartment complex STILL not being concidered for redevelopment as a relocated bus terminal???

  • That’s a good point truthspew. Given the choice to cross Exchange Terrace and Memorial or going under them and through the park I’d always choose the park. Heck, even when I’m walking east bound towards North Main I always choose to go through the park so I don’t have to cross Exchange Street and Memorial.

  • This sounds like a good thing.

    I”m a little hazy on the details based on this report. Is the ped-way going to just be the north-south Exchange?

    It would be interesting to make it easier/more attractive to cross through the tunnelway by the ice-skating rink towards the train station, but I feel like the main drawback to that approach is the legibility of that route for people coming off the train to Kennedy Plaza and visa-versa.

    Jef, you mentioned some bus-bike lanes in your twitter post about this. I hope I didn’t sound too nasty about that (twitter really abbreviates and thus harshens whatever I want to say). I’m not a huge fan of combined bike-bus lanes, because I feel like the logic of them is “eh, let’s throw everything that’s not a car into one spot” when in fact buses and bikes are not very compatible in the same direction (for either the benefit of transit users or cyclists). Cyclists get stuck in stop-go traffic behind heavy, exhaust-spewing vehicles that make wide, deadly turns, and bus riders get stuck behind slow cyclists. Also, I wonder, how are we going to start enforcing (with either police ticketing, or infrastructure) the idea of bus/bike lanes? Part of the reason I want Providence to make a move towards more protected bike lanes is that I think it really starts to make those lanes something that can’t be crossed over and abused easily by cars. The Exchange “bus only” area is almost famously ignored by drivers right now. What’s going to be different?

    I want 6 & 10 to disappear, but lately I’ve been thinking more short-term about what could happen with their transition around the so-called Viaduct up by the mall, and I thought maybe we could work a traffic circle into that huge intersection to calm traffic and very forcefully slow traffic to city speeds. I think this would help people cross towards the train station at all points, whatever route they take. It also seems like a good idea to me because if we never get ride of the highway (god forbid!) one hopes that there’s no harm done, because the traffic circle would still be a good thing, but if we do get rid of it someday, it would also help to calm that intersection in a (newly expanded) Memorial Boulevard.

    The Ben Franklin Parkway in Philly has a lot of traffic circles, and while in a general sense I would say it’s not a piece of infrastructure I’d like to see emulated (I think Jane Jacobs even uses it as an example of bad urban design in the Death of Cities) it’s a great improvement over Memorial Boulevard. The street has way more lanes, but somehow feels more walkable, because of all the islands and circles and so on to slow cars.

  • And yet, still, no one discusses the most obvious answer to this problem of linking the train station to the bus terminal. Why not the EMPTY PARCEL NEXT to the train station that is sitting idol with gravel, beer cans and construction waste with directly access to the train platform??

  • Why is this parcel not being considered as an option to relocating the bus terminal?? There is zero need for these two things to be separate as they are now.

  • I think I suggested the buses be moved to the train station once, and someone explained that the parcel of land can’t support great weight because it’s essentially hollow tunnels underneath.

    Good idea otherwise, maybe just too expensive to reboot the area.

    Plus, there’s a lot more density where Kennedy Plaza is than the train station. It’s a shame we moved it in the first place, it would have been nice to keep the trains where they were. Oh well.

  • First, its not clear why almost $400,000 needs to be spent on the northeast corner of Burnside Park and what good that will do.
    Second, the idea to relocate bus stops to the outside of KP as noted in the post is problematic for passengers. As I understand it, 2 bus berths that could be located by the bus terminal building are to be instead relocated to the north side of Burnside Park, making it harder for passengers using the lines that would stop there to transfer, get access to info, indoor wait areas, bathrooms, and security, for what good?? As it is, 2 other berths are to be moved a bit further away in order to accomodate filling in the center of the KP bus area to make room for other uses. I see the need to make KP more appealing to help market the city’s financial district, but I don’t see how this relocation that hurts passengers will help do this.
    Moving the entire bus depot away will be super expensive and leave passengers where they are much less likely to want to go.
    I believe key elements in any real improvement in KP involve (rather than moving more bus stops away) an improved sense of security – not just for bus riders but for all users, continued crackdowns on drug dealing and any other criminal activity, good maintenance and cleanliness, good lighting, and not allowing thru traffic to drive thru the center of KP on Washington St when they will have 2 other eastbound routes- along both the north (once 2-way) and south (Fulton St) sides of KP.
    I think it would help if more city leaders saw our transit system as an opportunity that no ther RI location has.
    general problem

  • I’d add, Jef, that from either the train station or Kennedy Plaza, Waterplace isn’t exactly a direct route to either hub. Its more of a zig-zag up and downstairs over loose cobblestone walkways and bridges.

    Without relocating the bus terminal, the only way to make this money useful is to build a better pedestrian corridor from the train station to the plaza using brighter lighting, visible and welcoming signage, attractive street furniture, traffic / pedestrian bollards, information kiosks, pedestrian shelters and emergency call boxes.

    Otherwise, this simply doesn’t make sense unless we’re calling it something else.

  • The Champlin Grant is only for work within Burnside Park because the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy applied for it, and that is what they told Champlin they wanted to use it for.

    When the train station was in its old location and the Chinese wall was still in place, there was no reason for that corner of the park to be a welcoming entrance. Now that we have rebuilt the urban environment around it, this corner of the park really should be one of its main gateways.

    I have not seen the latest designs for the gateway, but my understanding is it will open the fence, create a small plaza around the Burnside statue and provide a walkway from that corner towards the center of Kennedy Plaza at a gentle gradient. The gradients of the current pathways across the park are at its steepest point and are not ideal for ADA consideration. There was also some discussion of installing an information kiosk with a RIPTA ticketing machine, I’m not sure if that is in the current plan or will follow later (it of course depends on RIPTA’s schedule for introducing ticketing machines).

    RIPTA has money to address Exchange Street from the corner of the park to the train station. Again, I have not seen the latest plans for that, I believe it’s primary focus is the roadway, as of course that is what RIPTA uses, but my understanding is it will also address some current deficiencies in the sidewalks. I don’t think the upgrades will be as high as we would all like and the biggest hole will remain the intersection with Memorial Boulevard.

    As RIPTA studies the idea of locating buses at the train station, it would behoove advocates to ensure that the Exchange Street pedestrian environment, especially at Memorial Boulevard, is addressed.

    All of this is a process of stepping back and looking at the environment we created when we moved the rivers and the train tracks and created Capital Center as well as when we last addressed Kennedy Plaza. Time has passed, buildings have filled in, people have established usage patterns, and now we have a much clearer understanding of how everything needs to work than we did when it was designed (and our thinking on the urban environment has changed quite a bit since it was all designed).

    It is good that we have people interested in addressing the deficiencies that still exist, and we should take advantage of these opportunities to help them design the spaces.

  • Also, I agree about the infrastructure in Waterplace making it a less than ideal pathway to the train station, especially for someone carrying luggage or pushing a stroller or something. I do actually tend to use it as it feels slightly more direct walking from points west, and also because the light at Memorial is so horrid, the weird navigation challenges are worth avoiding that.

  • Thanks for further explaining that, Jef.

    Side-note: I’d really like to see pedestrian railings, bollards, barricades, etc. to keep and protect folks walking the intersection at Memorial and Francis. That intersection is so dangerous and a more directed path to crosswalks and sidewalks would perhaps slow cars down and keep peds from crossing on the west side of the intersection. This could be applied in many places across the city including Memorial and Exchange — especially at Emmet Square and at Sabin and West Exchange Streets in front of the Convention Center / Omni Hotel. Perhaps something that will be addressed during the next phase of the circulator project?

  • There’s some discussion (though I think it is mostly conceptual at this point) about reconfiguring the Memorial/Francis intersection as part of the Route 95 Viaduct project. RIDOT seems to think they can move back from that intersection where the ramps meet each other, so all that traffic from 6/10 and the 95 ramps meets the intersection in one roadway, instead of the two speedways that don’t merge until after they go through the light.

    I’m not sure how it would work, but I think it is certainly worth investigating.

    The Emmett Square intersection is getting a major redesign as part of the final phase of the circulator project starting this summer. It should be much more pedestrian friendly and make more sense for drivers (and having drivers be less confused also contributes to pedestrian safety).

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