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Construction on visitors center at The Breakers to begin

Associated Press logo Associated Press 10/04/2017

NEWPORT, R.I. — Construction on a contested visitors center on the grounds of The Breakers mansion in Newport is scheduled to begin.

The Preservation Society of Newport County tells The Newport Daily News that work on the $5.4 million project is expected to begin within the next two weeks. The project will likely take a year to complete.

"This is a major milestone toward the creation of the kind of world class hospitality that we feel a national historic landmark should provide for its visitors," said Monty Burnham, chairwoman of the nonprofit group's board. "With this step we move toward offering our visitors the hospitality they deserve, and that they enjoy at museums and historic sites around the world."

The Preservation Society has said a visitors center will provide modern bathroom and ticketing facilities, as well as a place to get refreshments while visiting the 70-room Gilded Age mansion, a National Historic Landmark that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II built the mansion in 1895, and today, approximately 450,000 visitors come annually to see The Breakers' opulence and over-the-top features, such as platinum wall panels.

But many preservationists, neighbors and descendants of the Vanderbilt family, including designer Gloria Vanderbilt, have fought the plan for years. They argue that the visitors center should be built outside the walls of the 13-acre estate.

Mary Joan Hoene, of the group Friends of Newport Preservation, which opposes the plan, on Monday compared it to placing a fast-food restaurant on the lawn at Mount Vernon, the plantation house of President George Washington.

"The flawed plan for a commercial building on the grounds of The Breakers will outrage anyone who cares about the historic integrity of the landmark and preservation," she said in a statement. The Preservation Society "is destroying The Breakers landscape and ambiance to the detriment of its visitors."

She said they plan to continue to work to prevent "this travesty."

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Information from: The Newport Daily News.

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