It only took the State Properties Committee 20 minutes to approve a purchase and sales agreement Tuesday that director of administration Richard Licht said could profoundly impact the lives of Rhode Islanders for hundreds of years to come.
Unanimously, the committee approved state acquisition of the remaining 80 acres of the former Rocky Point Amusement Park for $9.65 million. The money will come from a $10 million bond issue approved by voters in 2010 and will go to the Small Business Administration (SBA). The court appointed the SBA the receiver soon after the park’s owner, Moneta Capital, filed for bankruptcy in 1995.
The next, and presumably the final, step in the transfer of the property – U.S. District Court approval of the sale – could come before the end of the year, according to SBA District Manager Mark Hayward.
“We’re on target,” Hayward said after the vote. The agreement calls for a closing on the property on or before Jan. 13.
There could be a twist in the road, a turn that could nix the deal and result in the property being privately developed.
No one speculated that would happen Tuesday and there was no talk of the provision that allows a qualified buyer to nab the property for a 10 percent purchase premium.
Nonetheless, state and Warwick officials have taken steps to lessen the chances of losing the property. In drafting the agreement, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the SBA agreed that 50 acres be preserved as open space. Another buyer would also have to abide by those terms.
And on Sept. 26, the Warwick City Council abated $2.3 million in unpaid taxes on the park. That abatement only applies should the state acquire the property, meaning in addition to a 10 percent premium; a prospective buyer would need to come up with an additional $2.3 million.
“Any Rhode Islander who has been here more than 20 years has a fond memory of Rocky Point,” Licht told the committee. He called the land a “jewel” and said “rarely do you get this opportunity to protect a property for perpetuity.”
He said that in a “couple of hundred years” Rhode Islanders would still be enjoying the park thanks to the actions taken today.
In opening remarks to the committee, DEM Director Janet Coit said there is not another property in the state like Rocky Point with its spectacular views of Narragansett Bay. Once the land is acquired, she said, it would be a “number of steps” before it would be accessible to the public, including its cleanup and development “so it truly becomes an amenity for the public.”
Ronald Renaud, committee chairman, agreed.
Renaud walked the property last week and in spite of debris left from demolished structures on the Midway and the crumbling Shore Dinner Hall and deteriorating Palladium, called the site “absolutely spectacular.” He said that the 80 acres is assessed at close to $15 million and that at $9.65 million, this “is a tremendous deal for Rhode Island.”
“It has been a long, long process to get here,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian. He called the park a “great amenity.” As the city, with state and federal assistance, was able to acquire 41 acres of park shoreline in 2007, the state acquisition would reunite the full former park property for public use.
Lisa Primiano, DEM deputy chief of the State Land Conservation and Acquisition Program, reported that a survey of what would be needed to clean up the property has been completed. She said there are no transformers on the land or hazardous waste. And she said the state has been in talks with the city over the demolition of the scores of Rocky Beach cottages on that portion of the land.
Primiano also touched on the sale of two lots that are on the other side of Palmer Avenue to the park to Kenneth Perry. Perry has served as the park’s caretaker for years. Should Perry execute the sale with the SBA, the funds realized would be deducted from the state’s cost.
“We’re still not sure that’s going to happen,” Primiano said of the sale to Perry. She said it’s to the state’s benefit to dispose of the Perry Lot, as it is referred to in the agreement.
Robert Griffth was the only committee member to raise questions over how the state will care and pay to maintain the park.
Coit said nothing has been budgeted at this point, but DEM would assume control and that it would come under the direction of the division of parks and recreation.
“We will work with some kind of partnership and generate revenue streams,” Coit said. Coit has said she looks forward to a public process where ideas for park development and means for it to generate revenues are publicly discussed.
Hayward also appeared before the committee.
“This has been a partnership,” he said, adding, “This has been long in coming.” He called the sale of the land to the state, “most apropos.” He thought the court might consider the sale as soon as next month.