By Arnold Robinson, AICP, Associate | Regional Planning Director
The Town of Warren, RI recently announced that it will be purchasing an underutilized waterfront site owned by National Grid and redeveloping it as a business incubator, public event space, and riverwalk extension. An impressive group of U.S. senators, congressional representatives, and state officials were on hand to celebrate.
But how did the project get to this point of celebration? Moving a project from the “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” stage to something a whole community can support and then implementation requires a brilliant spark of a concept at its center; but then is has to be nurtured through the collaboration of a surprising large and diverse group of talented folks.
Recently, Warren Town Planner Bob Rulli and Town Administrator Kate Michaud had a not-so-crazy idea that an underutilized waterfront site could be something more than a chain link fence and barbed wire enclosed blight at the main gateway to the downtown area. Their concept was that the site could become an incubator for new businesses and animate Warren’s waterfront while connecting people along a continuous riverwalk. But the site had an environmental history and was sandwiched between uses that would require innovative approaches in site design.
The Town asked Fuss & O’Neill to move beyond the initial concept and to see how it could be made “real” so that the next steps could be mapped out and undertaken. A multidisciplinary team of Fuss & O’Neill staff tackled the issues. Project Engineer Christina Viera, PE researched the site and regulatory requirements, coordinated survey, and was part of the design team. Senior Structural Engineer Jason LeDoux, PE assessed the site conditions of this former substation, with an eye to its future adaptive reuse. Senior Environmental Geologist Brian Kortz, CPG, LSP, CNU-A guided the research on environmental site history, and I helped out with historical preservation, urban design, and project coordination
Partners outside Fuss & O’Neill were integral to the project. Our subconsultant Waterman Engineering prepared the site survey that became the base for all team site planning. Union Studio Architecture & Community Design was our partner from the beginning, collaborating with Fuss & O’Neill and the Town in design sessions and preparing schematic designs for the buildings and stunning site renderings that allow community leaders and the general public to understand the potential of the site.
So what did all this happy collaboration get us? In only seven weeks the team created an actionable vision that provides an inspirational image of how the site can become a dynamic destination, not a closed-off eyesore:
As a planner, I love that it’s my job to envision an optimistic future for every site, road, shoreline, and building we work on, regardless of its often less-than-optimal condition. But collaborating with others who have differing backgrounds, experiences, and ideas is truly the exciting part of my job. Diverse and unique perspectives bring about grand visions that are so much more than the sum of their individual parts. And watching that vision come to life… well, I’ll try to explain that joy in my next blog.
About the Author:
Arnold Robinson, AICP has been practicing in the fields of community planning, historic preservation and rehabilitation, education, and urban design for more than 30 years. His expertise includes work in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors as project manager, executive director, and designer. His diverse career has included master planning, feasibility analysis, multidisciplinary project collaboration, site design, public process facilitation, regulatory permitting, historic rehabilitation project design, bidding and construction administration.