“First in our hearts as loyal Americans and Elks, is charity,” said Mark E. Eaton, the exalted ruler of Tri-City Elks Lodge No. 14. “No one is more charitable than Pat and Gail Conley. Tonight, we thank you for your generous and extraordinary donation.”
Eaton and company thanked the Conleys in a huge way last Friday during a special dedication of the Con-Tiki-Bar that once sat on Dock Conley in Providence and is now located at the lakeside lodge at 1915 West Shore Road.
A sellout crowd helped Lodge 14 thank the Conleys for their donation of the Con-Tiki-Bar that was once part of the Bristol couple’s dream of building a mega-use Providence waterfront resort that would bring millions of dollars into the Ocean State.
Pat Conley, who among his many credits served as chairman of the Rhode Island Bicentennial Commission and is president of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, and his wife Gail wanted to turn their harborside property at 200 Allens Avenue into a seaport, replete with a five-star hotel, restaurants, shops, medical buildings and even a cruise-ship terminal.
Dock Conley became the summer home of American Cruise Lines that offered cruises throughout the northeast and even to Alaska. It was also home of the Providence-to-Newport Ferry that made 47,002 trips during its run.
That was back in 2008 when Pat commissioned Albert Beauparlant of Woonsocket to build the Con-Tiki-Bar, where people often enjoyed an evening cocktail while awaiting a return ferry trip to Newport or just listening to music.
But Pat and Gail, who sunk upwards of $4 million into their plan, were forced to give up their dream resort due to zoning.
“We asked to have the property rezoned from industrial to mixed use,” Pat said. “What a shame; the proposed project created lots and lots of interest, only to fall victim to rezoning.”
Thus, the Con-Tiki-Bar that Conley had custom built for $12,000 and the adjacent Dockside Diner were immediately shut down.
“Just like that we went from a dream to a nightmare,” said Pat, his voice cracking with emotion. “When all our efforts were exhausted, we removed the Con-Tiki-Bar from Dock Conley and stored it next to our office building.”
A few months ago when Eaton was installed as exalted ruler, he told a friend of his, who asked to remain anonymous, about his plan to build a tiki bar.
“My friend said, ‘Don’t do anything until I make a telephone call,’” Eaton said. “‘I know where there is just what you want.’”
A few days later, Eaton became excited when his friend said, “I just talked to Pat Conley and asked him if he’d donate his bar to the Elks. And, he immediately said, ‘Done deal. I am also an Elk.’”
Now the problem was how would Elks Lodge No. 14 move a 17-foot high, 40-foot long structure from Providence to Warwick?
Enter Eaton’s longtime friend Fred DeLuca, a Warwick resident who is general manager for Sterry Street Towing in Providence.
On a recent Saturday at approximately 6 a.m., Eaton and Elks members Albert “Cookie” Delory, Nick Rossi and John Knight met DeLuca and his top aide, George Law, at Conley’s property and loaded the Con-Tiki-Bar onto their huge rig, via a powerful hydraulic winch.
“Incredible,” Eaton told the audience Friday night. “Approximately 25 minutes later the bar was sitting on our lodge lawn. We didn’t hit a tree or a wire ... nothing. It was an incredible move of what is certainly a mighty unique donation.”
Last Friday night’s dedication ceremony, which was forced inside because of rain, featured food, fellowship and music. Leading Knight Charles Greaves and three other musicians provided the night’s music.
While Eaton praised the Conleys for their extraordinary donation, it was Pat who issued the night’s biggest thank you.
“Gail and I thank you – the members of Elks Lodge No. 14 – for finding a permanent home for our Con-Tiki-Bar,” Pat, a noted attorney, author, professor and historian, said after accepting a beautiful plaque. “While we’ll never realize our dream, it is heart-warming to know that my brother Elks have offered a permanent home and will no doubt find many great and different uses for the Con-Tiki-Bar.”