Ground broken for Breakers welcome center

Dignitaries break ground for a new welcome center at The Breakers mansion in Newport, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (WJAR)

After years of legal battles, a groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday for a welcome center at The Breakers, the biggest of the Gilded Age mansions in Newport.

The construction of the welcome center has been held up in the courts for four years and five separate lawsuits.

The building will serve the 450,000 guests who stroll through the gates each year.

"It's going to be the most spectacular welcome center anywhere in the country," said Trudy Coxe, executive director of The Preservation Society of Newport County.

Coxe said the $5.4-million, 3,650-square-foot building will offer food, relaxation and badly needed restrooms.

But others see the ceremony as an act of vandalism not preservation.

The Friends of Newport Preservation has argued for years that the welcome center should not be located on the grounds of the 122-year-old mansion, but should instead be located across the street in a parking lot.

After years of legal battles, the court ruled the welcome center could be located on The Breakers property. It will be hidden behind trees and bushes.

"It will be adjacent to the gatekeepers' cottage. It will be screened by planting some paths, and it will operate virtually unseen," said Monty Burnham, chairman of the board of trustees.

The center will open in one year and will provide amenities that supporters say The Breakers has desperately needed to stay relevant.

However, the Preservation Society added that the addition will not mean weddings will start happening at The Breakers.

"Our commitment to the city when we got started was this welcome center would be never used for weddings. It's actually quite small. It will be closed at the end of the day," Coxe said.

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