Restoring Roger Williams Park

 Restoring Roger Williams Park

Providence – The Rhode Island Foundation has received more than $3.3 million in new donations since launching its campaign to restore Roger Williams Park one year ago. With the latest contributions, the Foundation has raised more than $7.8 million toward its $10 million goal. The initiative marks a year-long celebration of the Foundation’s 100th anniversary this year.

“The heart of what we do is strengthen community. After all, that is where people join together and a sense of kinship begins. It made sense to commemorate our centennial by paying tribute to one of the state’s most-loved landmarks,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

The work includes 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.

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

At $778,000, the largest new gift comes from The Champlin Foundations. With this donation, Champlin has contributed nearly $1.9 million to the campaign. The previous work funded includes the restoration of the historic Bandstand and Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.
“We at The Champlin Foundations are pleased by the progress made so far at the Park and are making a second grant to the effort so that we can help keep up the momentum and embark on the next round of improvements, the restoration of the Boathouse, Temple to Music and Casino,” said Keith Lang, Champlin’s executive director.

Steinberg made note of other sizeable new donations including contributions from the Norman & Rosalie Fain Family Foundation, the Haffenreffer Family Fund, the Murray Family Charitable Foundation and the Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund.

Among the most prominent corporate donors are Amica and Ocean State Job Lot, which both committed $100,000.

“Amica Insurance is proud to support the Rhode Island Foundation and this outstanding campaign,” said Robert A. DiMuccio, chairman, president and CEO of Amica. “As a lifelong Rhode Islander, I have many fond memories of visiting Roger Williams Park. This campaign will allow future generations to enjoy these same special moments for years to come.”

The Foundation’s campaign complements $3 million in improvements the city of Providence has made to the park. That funding came from a $53 bond issue approved by Rhode Island voters in 2014.

«With the generous support of the Rhode Island Foundation, the Providence Parks Department has made great strides to improve and upgrade this great park,» said Mayor Jorge Elorza. «As part of my commitment to supporting strong, thriving neighborhoods we will continue to make the necessary improvements to make sure Roger Williams Park remains a jewel for all of its visitors to enjoy.»

Original major donors to the campaign include the Carter Fund, the Peggy and Henry Sharpe Fund and the Foundation itself. More than 140 donors have contributed to the campaign since it launched in December 2015.

“Now is a crucial time in the life of the park. We are thankful for donors who have the vision to preserve it for decades to come,” said the Foundation’s Steinberg. “We look forward to working with other generous Rhode Islanders to make sure the park continues to be an economic driver and a place of community.”

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 needed to be done. Many of the buildings have not had substantial renovation in decades.

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.

The Roger Williams Park Conservancy has scheduled a tree-lighting ceremony at the newly restored Bandstand for Mon., Dec. 12, at 5 p.m. The event will feature Joe’s Backyard Band and free refreshments.

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. Just since 2012, the Foundation has awarded more than $160 million in grants.

Among the other activities that marked the Foundation’s 100th anniversary are the first community performance of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in Roger Williams Park in more than a decade and the Centennial Community Gifts program, which awarded a total of $500,000 in grants to fund community activities in every city and town.

The projects include building a gazebo on the waterfront in Gov. John Notte Memorial Park in North Providence, launching a 24-plot community garden at the Friends Meeting House site in downtown Newport and creating an outdoor public performance space at the Contemporary Theater Company in South Kingstown.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2015, the Foundation awarded a record $41.5 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. For more information, visit