Providence lays out conceptual plans for $140M Kennedy Plaza redesign

CONCEPTUAL PLANS to redesign the Greater Kennedy Plaza space with new activities, water features and safety improvements will be detailed at a city meeting Wednesday night. / COURTESY ARUP GROUP

PROVIDENCE – Safety, aesthetics, climate resiliency and community engagement are among the goals behind the city’s ambitious redesign of the Greater Kennedy Plaza area.

The city in conjunction with its London-based consultant Arup Group offered local residents a glimpse into the estimated $140 million project at a virtual meeting Wednesday night. While lacking many specifics, including the breakdown of project costs and timing of the three-phase rollout, the series of renderings and video depiction highlight the main areas of focus.

The project spans not only Kennedy Plaza itself, but also Waterplace Park and the river walk, the skating rink, and the Exchange Terrace Tunnel.

Safety is at the heart of many improvements, including relocating what is anticipated to be six bus berths remaining in Kennedy Plaza to the edges of the bus depot and building a new, above-ground walkway connecting the plaza to Waterplace Park. A larger skating rink will replace the existing rink and double as a water feature in the summer months. The walkways along the Providence river will also get a facelift, including actual elevation of the paths to account for rising sea levels.

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The first phase of the project, which will concentrate on Kennedy Plaza-related improvements, is expected to begin in 2022. 

The proposal comes amid a new plan from the R.I. Department of Transportation to split up the bus hub at Kennedy Plaza across three locations. The plan has been met with criticism including a Civil Rights Act complaint for its negative effects on low-income and minority riders. The city’s proposal for Kennedy Plaza can move forward “regardless of the timing and phasing of the RIDOT plan,” according to Providence Director of Planning and Development Bonnie Nickerson. However, the current design relies on RIDOT’s proposal to redistribute about three-quarters of routes from Kennedy Plaza to new bus hubs at Providence Station and the edge of the Providence Innovation & Design District. 

Former Gov. Gina M. Raimondo publicly backed the RIDOT plan despite mounting opposition. Asked whether Gov. Daniel J. McKee also supported the plan, Andrea Palagi, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email that he and his team were reviewing the issue.

The virtual event on Wednesday is the second community meeting held since Mayor Jorge O. Elorza in November announced the three-phase improvement project aimed at bolstering pedestrian access, safety and aesthetic improvements across Greater Kennedy Plaza. As part of the commitment to community input, city leaders and design team members have met with more than 20 local organizations and sought resident feedback through an online survey that drew over 1,300 responses, according to Nickerson.

So far, the city has committed $16.8 million in what is estimated to be a $140 million price tag, though the conceptual nature of the project makes costs hard to pin down, according to Nickerson. The rest of the money will come from a mixture of federal funds with some additional city investment to be rolled out in phases, Elorza said. 

More information on the Kennedy Plaza redesign is available at

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

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