Time has not been kind to Rocky Point. Beyond the shiny chain link fence separating the city’s 41 shoreline acres and the 80 acres of state land, parking lots that once were filled with cars on hot summer days are choked with weeds and bushes. The windows of the Shore Dinner Hall are gone, the roof is caved in and any hopes of saving what was known as “the world’s largest shore dining hall” are gone for good.
What’s surprising is how quickly nature has reclaimed a piece of property that for more than 125 years was the playground every summer for hundreds of thousands.
That’s one way of looking at it.
Others may look at it from exactly the opposite vantage. The park closed in 1995. That’s 19 years ago.
What’s taken so long for the state to acquire it and, now that it owns it, so long to open it once again to the public?
There’s no denying it’s been years, and the pace seems interminably slow. We venture, however, that the delays – and the economy – have worked for the public.
Remember the Small Business Administration auction of the park after it was named the court appointed receiver of the park? There was a lot of interest. The housing market was hot and so were the bids. SBA went for the $25 million offer made by the luxury homebuilding company, Toll Brothers.
The company came up with a plan for 399 housing units spread between townhouses and apartment towers. At a City Hall hearing, there was surprising interest in the units, mostly from Warwick Neck residents looking to downsize while staying on the neck. But by the time the company was looking to refine its plans, the housing market was starting to show signs of softening. Toll Brothers backed out. In subsequent auctions other bidders won the rights to buy the land, but they, too, couldn’t pull it together in the worsening economy.
In a defining development, which we feel set the stage for eventual public ownership of all the park, the city and the state negotiated to remove the single largest creditor after the SBA from the equation with city acquisition of the shoreline.
In the more recent history, voters approved $10 million in state funds to buy the remaining 80-plus acres. That was in 2010.
Yesterday the Department of Environmental Management opened bids for the cleanup of the park, including the demolition of the Palladium, the Shore Dinner Hall and the Rocky Beach cottages.
What’s left of the park is not pretty. It needs to go. But the future of the park, although exactly what it will look like is undefined, looks bright. The next step will be the development of a master plan. That process promises to engage the community.
Regardless of the outcome, access to a cleaned up park promises to rekindle memories and, even more important, become a place to generate them for generations to come.