(Newport This Week)
There were no paparazzi, but the local media was out in force. There was no red carpet, just the remnants of industrial carpeting still covering the floor of the stripped-down lobby. There were no celebrities per se, but Statehouse royalty was lined up like the Rockettes at Radio City: a governor (Raimondo), a senator (Reed), a Senate president (Paiva Weed), and a mayor (Napolitano).
Instead of tap shoes, they were given shovels and hard hats.
The event was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Opera House Restoration Project, an undertaking intended to transform the nearly 150-yearold theater and revitalize Newport’s Washington Square as a cultural and artistic magnet for the town and the state. The milestone was made possible by the allocation of $4.2 million in grant money from the Rhode Island Cultural Arts Facilities Bond, which was approved by voters in 2014.
“Today we mark the rebirth of the Opera House,” Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano told the crowd. “This will be the economic driver of the city for years to come.” With a nod to the theater’s place in Newport history, she added that “Fairbanks, Pickford, and Barrymore have graced this stage.”
Rhode Island Senate president Teresa Paiva Weed called the $4.2 million infusion one of the most substantial – and “exciting” – ever for Newport County, and commended the vision of a dedicated board. “They recognized that this could no longer be an investment in an old building just because it was nice. They had to show it would make money.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo acknowledged the work of Paiva Weed, saying “she was more interested in the results than getting credit.”
“The only thing more exciting than this,” said board chair Alison Vareika, “will be when we open this theater.” The completion date for the project is December 2017.