Board rejects $7M Kennedy Plaza pavilion project proposal

Updated at 2:50 p.m.

THE CITY BOARD OF CONTRACT AND SUPPLY on Monday voted against awarding a $7.2 million contract to build a food-and-drink pavilion in Kennedy Plaza because the proposal was missing legal documents. Pictured is a rendering of the area including the outdoor event and seating area. /COURTESY ARUP GROUP

PROVIDENCE – Plans to build a $7 million food-and-drink pavilion in Kennedy Plaza have hit a snag due to missing documents from the only company that responded to the city solicitation.

Rather than award the contract to Boston-based Merge Architects Inc., the Providence Board of Contract and Supply rejected the company’s $7.2 million proposal because it does not include one of the required legal agreements, known as a bid bond. The 8-0 vote Monday, which was made without discussion, did not specify that the city should issue its request for proposals, although that is the eventual plan, according to Tim Rondeau, a spokesperson for the city Planning Department.

The decision, based on a recommendation from Providence Planning Director Bonnie Nickerson, comes amid a changeover in City Hall that may also hamper plans to redesign Kennedy Plaza. The pavilion project is one piece of Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s larger, $140 million vision to transform the area around Kennedy Plaza with pedestrian walkways, community gathering spaces and infrastructure improvements. But incoming mayor Brett Smiley said previously that he wants to hold off on any major changes to Kennedy Plaza until construction tied to the redevelopment of the nearby “Superman” building concludes.

Emily Ward Crowell, a spokesperson for Smiley, said in an email on Monday that Smiley hopes the city will hold off on reissuing the solicitation for the pavilion project.

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Elizabeth Whittaker, the founder and principal of Merge, wants just the opposite. Whittaker said in an email she plans to resubmit a proposal if and when the city reopens its solicitation, presumably adding the bid bond document that was missing the first time around. Whittaker declined to comment further on why this required document was omitted in the original submission, but she maintained her interest in working with the city.

Merge’s original proposal featured several well-known Rhode Island businesses as project partners. The owners of downtown seafood shack Dune Brothers would run a fast-casual rotisserie chicken restaurant out of a 4,000-square-foot building and manage the entire pavilion, which also includes outdoor seating and event space. Design Under Sky, a Providence landscape architecture firm with work including the public art installation 10,000 Suns and the Roger Williams Park gateway, would be responsible for the 23,000 feet worth of landscape improvements and green infrastructure. Meanwhile, Providence firm HB Design & Build, which worked on the Bayberry Beer Hall and Bayberry Garden, would oversee construction, according to the proposal.

The $7.2 million project estimate is less than the city’s $8.2 million spending cap, which comes from its American Rescue Plan Act budget.

The city originally anticipated awarding the contract in December, with construction beginning in 2024, according to its bid documents. 

The project is not expected to impact parallel plans to relocate the central bus depot of Kennedy Plaza to a new hub on Dorrance Street. The R.I. Public Transit Authority, which is overseeing the bus hub relocation, expects to choose a development partner from a public bidding process by the end of the year, spokeswoman Cristy Raposo Perry said previously. 

(UPDATE: Story updated with results from The Board of Contract and Supply meeting in 2nd and 3rd paragraphs.)

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at

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