One day after the R.I. Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 9 that the Newport Zoning Board was the correct body to determine if the proposed Breakers Welcome Center was appropriate for the Gilded Age mansion, The Preservation Society of Newport County announced that for the first time, it welcomed more than 1 million annual visitors to its 10 properties.
By reaching that milestone in 2016, the Newport institution became the first New England-based museum outside of Boston to do so.
Last year's attendance was a 25 percent increase compared to 2008, due to longer hours, improved programming and an increase in travel as the world recovers from the global financial meltdown.
When the preservation society proposed building the 3,650-square-foot, $4.2 million welcome center in early 2013, The Breakers was logging 400,000 visitors a year. Tickets were being sold in tents, and nearby port-a-johns had been added to handle the traffic. This arrangement is hardly fitting for such a grand mansion museum. And this last point is the key one.
For The Breakers is no longer a home. It is a significant tourist attraction. And in a city that depends to a very large degree on the tourism business to make economic ends meet, everything within reason should be done to preserve, if not enhance, the visitor experience.
The plans for the proposed welcome center are appropriate for the mansion and its grounds, a decision the Newport Zoning Board reached two years ago. It's time that the preservation society got the go-ahead to start work. •