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Celebrating our Centennial with a plan to restore Roger Williams Park
By Chris Barnett / December 8, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...
To kick off a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding in 1916, the Rhode Island Foundation today announced the details of a $10 million campaign to restore Roger Williams Park. The work will include improvements to the park’s entrances, new signage, expanded walkways and bicycle paths and repairs to the Museum of Natural History, the Bandstand, the Casino and the Temple to Music.

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“Community is at the heart of what we do. Community lives where people gather and a sense of belonging begins. It seems only fitting that we honor and support one of the state’s best-loved places to commemorate our centennial,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

The park was created in the 1870s after Betsey Williams donated 102 acres of farmland and woodland including land that was originally obtained from the Narragansett tribe by her great, great, great, grandfather Roger Williams. Since then the park has grown to 435 acres under the management of the City of Providence Parks and Recreation Department. More than 1.5 million people visit the park every year.

"Our parks, especially Roger Williams Park, are some of our greatest assets. Over a million people visit this park each year, many like myself use the park regularly," said Mayor Jorge Elorza. "I'm very excited that The Rhode Island Foundation has graciously committed to restoring and improving our park so that residents and visitors can enjoy it for years to come."

The Rhode Island Foundation has already raised $4.5 million. The support includes $1.5 million from the Foundation itself as well as a $1.15 million gift from The Champlin Foundations to restore the historic Bandstand and Museum.


“We are very excited to partner with the Rhode Island Foundation to restore Roger Williams Park. This donation builds on the investments we have made over the years to care for this wonderful place. I hope others will join us in supporting this campaign,” said Keith Lang, Champlin’s executive director.

In addition, nearly two dozen other donors have combined to contribute nearly $1.9 million to the campaign.

“This is a critical time in the life of the park. We thank our donors for having the vision to preserve it for future generations,” said the Foundation’s Steinberg. “We look forward to working with other far-sighted supporters to ensure the park remains an economic engine and community treasure.”

Plans call for $5 million to be spent on repairs and improvements to the park over the next five years. Many of the current buildings, roads, bridges and sidewalks were built by the federal Works Progress Administration from 1935 to 1940. Structures such as the Temple to Music and Betsey Williams Cottage are even older.

The Foundation commissioned a study that identified the scope of work that needs to be done. Many of the buildings have not had substantial renovation in decades. Work is expected to begin early in 2016.

In addition, the Foundation plans to create a $5 million endowment that will provide a permanent source of funding for the Roger Williams Park Conservancy, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to ongoing stewardship of the park.

The Foundation was founded in 1916 with a $10,000 gift from industrialist Jesse Metcalf. Over the years, its assets have grown to more than $800 million. In the past four years alone, the Foundation has awarded more than $120 million in grants.

Among the other activities planned to mark the Foundation’s 100th anniversary is the Centennial Community Gifts program, which intends to award grants for community activities in every city and town in 2016. The grants will range from $5,000 to $15,000.

“We plan to celebrate each of Rhode Island’s unique 39 cities and towns by funding community-making projects throughout the state,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s senior vice president of strategy and community investments.

Potential uses include improvements to local parks, streetscapes and other public spaces; the creative use of art in public spaces; and staging programming that invites people to experience community in public spaces. Among the entities eligible to apply are nonprofit organizations, preservation societies and municipal governments or public agencies such as libraries and schools. Feb. 12, 2016, is the deadline to apply. 

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2014, the Foundation awarded $34.8 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

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