WESTERLY — When Paul Azzinaro, the local architect whose firm has touched several new builds and renovations in the downtown area, heard about the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce’s plans for a gateway at the Pawcatuck River Bridge, he felt compelled to submit a design.
“I didn’t have a choice. Most of my career is working in Westerly and our firm has done a significant amount of work in Westerly’s downtown,” Azzinaro said during an interview.
Azzinaro and Lisa Konicki, chamber president, provided an update to the Town Council on the gateway project last week. The design, the details of which are being kept under wraps for now, was one of seven contest entries received by the chamber’s Gateway Committee.
Before making its decision this spring, the committee used a panel of about 25 people who interviewed the finalists and discussed their entries. A matrix was used to score the entries in an effort to conduct what Konicki called a “transparent, nonpolitical” review. Azzinaro was the committee’s choice.
The gateway concept at the bridge, which connects Westerly to Pawcatuck and Rhode Island to Connecticut, has been received positively by the Westerly Town Council and the Stonington Board of Selectmen. But the process of making formal submissions to both towns has not yet begun. Input and buy-in from downtown businesses and property owners and the public will also be sought and the design will eventually be submitted to the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission because the bridge is considered to be a historic structure in the downtown.
When the process is further along, Azzinaro’s design will be released to the public, Konicki said. On Monday, Azzinaro told the Town Council that the design incorporates a “parklet” or small gathering place by the bridge.
As a lifelong resident of Westerly, Azzinaro’s memories of the bridge go back many years, including marching across it with his Cub Scout pack and listening to veterans speak during a host of ceremonies. Designing the gateway, which Konicki has said is intended to provoke an “a ha” moment for visitors, is an architect’s dream come true, Azzinaro said.
“It is a very rare opportunity to design something that’s going to be long lasting and make a lasting impression,” Azzinaro said.
To Azzinaro the project has a deep significance.
“It really speaks from the heart. This our generation’s gift to our communities...this could be a highlight and a gift for generations. I’m proud to be a part of it,” Azzinaro said.
While being interviewed by a panel of 25 people might be daunting, Azzinaro said it was not much different from appearing before the local land use boards he meets with regularly to discuss designs he has developed for his clients. “It’s probably the most nonpolitical thing I’ve been involved with. The selection process was proper and fair,” Azzinaro said.
Azzinaro has worked for his Azzinaro Larson Architects firm for 28 years. He has degrees in engineering and architecture and also studied urban planning in graduate school. The firm played a role in the design of the Westerly Education Center and the ongoing renovation of the United Theatre. It also designed the Westerly Ambulance Corps facility, the Pawcatuck Fire Station, and the Westerly Department of Public Works Highway Garage facility.
“This project is really dear to me. I’m humbled and appreciative,” Azzinaro said.