Newport dodged the worst of Hurricane Sandy last fall, but the damage it did sustain threatened a key piece of the city’s expansive tourism infrastructure: the Cliff Walk.
Wind-driven waves riding a large storm surge smashed pieces of the mansion and seaside walkway, undermining the earth and concrete abutments it rests on.
After the storm, city and state officials wanted to fix the Cliff Walk as quickly as possible, preferably before the end of the summer tourist season.
It’s turned out to be more complicated than they imagined.
Initial plans to bring in heavy machinery via ocean jetties and protect sections of the Cliff Walk seawall with piles of giant “armor stones” were scuttled due to concerns they would destroy the famous surf break at Ruggles Avenue.
In addition to its ocean and mansion views, the most popular section of the Cliff Walk is also one of the most famous surf spots on the East Coast.
So the R.I. Department of Transportation, which is using federal Sandy relief money to fix the Cliff Walk, has gone back to the drawing board again with plans that won’t be finished before or during summer.
Despite the inconvenience, some Newport tourism-industry leaders are not overly concerned the construction project will take a large bite out of the coming season.
In fact, although the delay means parts of the Cliff Walk will likely remain closed all summer, they say it might actually have the benefit of pushing much of the work into the fall or beyond the height of the tourist season.
“People have called and asked, ‘Will this hurt tourism?’ I don’t think so,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport. “Obviously the Cliff Walk is an amazingly popular part of traveler experience – a ‘must do’ when you come here. But the Cliff Walk will get restored and hopefully be better than ever. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”