The state’s plan is to re-open all of Rocky Point this fall. It will be a different place than the amusement park that closed in 1995, or the overgrown site of collapsing buildings, debris piles and crumbling parking lots of today.
Other than select elements of the former park, including the arch and the stanchions of the Sky Liner ride, the deteriorating structures will be gone. The former midway will be cleaned up, graded and seeded at a cost of more than $3 million.
As Larry Mouradjian, associate director of Natural Resources at the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) told an audience of planners, educators and citizens on Monday night, the opening will be an opportunity for the public to see what they “invested in” when they approved a bond issue to buy the land in 2010.
What they will find is an empty canvas.
How that canvas is to be filled, what the Rocky Point of the future will incorporate was the theme to Monday’s meeting held at Save the Bay offices at Field’s Point; and hosted by the Rocky Point Foundation and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Borrowing elements from other parks, three recent RISD graduates showed what might be done at Rocky Point; Mayor Scott Avedisian and Governor Lincoln Chafee highlighted their visions; and Elizabeth Mossop, principal with the New Orleans landscape architecture firm, Spackman Mossop Michaels, talked about how park design has changed.
At the initiative of Rocky Point Foundation member George Shuster and RISD professor Scheri Fultineer, RISD has held a series of three lectures, bringing in renowned park planners and architects to speak at public forums.
“It’s been exciting to bring people in and look at new ways to connect people with the landscape and the coastline,” said Fultineer.
Fultineer said RISD plans to use Rocky Point as a “design studio” and teaching tool for the next couple of years.
Development at the park is not projected to come quickly, nor without community input and discussion.
“We know how important they [parks] are to healthy lifestyles and to community building. We also know that they can be a significant part of economic development, of attracting both investment and new populations,” Mossop said in opening remarks.
Mossop touched on the challenge of the maintenance and infrastructure, saying there are a range of strategies to ensure sustainability and she cited the Providence River Hurricane Barrier as being “ahead of its time” and WaterFire Providence as being successful precedents.
Identifying a portion of the park property as a revenue generator, as was done at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, to sustain park operations resonated with the audience. In the case of Brooklyn Bridge Park, 9 percent of the land is allocated for a restaurant and housing.
Mossop said Rocky Point “has so many of the ingredients to become another really innovative and successful part of Rhode Island’s landscape.” She called the park a substantial site with wonderful coastline and access to swimming, accessible by public transportation offering a “diversity of topography and ecological experiences.”
Chafee urged support of the $75 million clean water, open space and healthy communities bond issue he has proposed for the November ballot that will include $2.5 million to rebuild the park pier. Ferry service between Colt Park and other locations on the bay is envisioned.
“We can connect some of our jewels,” said Chafee.
Mouradjian called the proposed pier “substantial” and the first major development at the park. He said the park is “derelict” of all utilities and that DEM is looking at using composting toilets that have proven successful at other parks.
“It does take money, and to reinvest in utilities is huge,” he said.
The plan is to leave the park’s former entrance as access for pedestrians, with vehicular access from the park’s former exit on Palmer Avenue. Parking would be in the area of where the Palladium is today.
Avedisian sees Rocky Point as a rare opportunity. He said, when the city bought the 41 acres from the Small Business Administration, a mile of shoreline was saved. Now the state land there adds 122 acres on the water.
“We want to get this right,” he said. “We now have all the pieces and it’s putting them together.”
Using examples from other parks, RISD graduates Michelle Jordan, Frederick Meatyard and Andrew Jacobs accentuated elements of Rocky Point and what they might look like if similarly developed.
Lisa Primiano, deputy chief of the DEM, said she had expected a more glitzy presentation and then found herself realizing “what a great piece of property that has all these qualities.”
“I thought the students clearly brought Rocky Point's already existing opportunities to light [wetlands, shoreline, forested lands, cultural resources] and it made me realize that we are fortunate to already have these features that many park designers have to "build" into new parks,” she said in an email.
Primiano, who shepherded state acquisition of the park and is now looking at its future, found RISD and the Rocky Point Foundation’s involvement helpful.
“It was quite impressive how Scheri was able to bring so many talented and experienced LA's [landscape architects] to Rhode Island to share experiences. Reflecting on the presentation last night gave me good reason to believe that DEM and the city's cautious efforts for site remediation and re-development are right on track. I greatly appreciated Elizabeth's [Mossop] real world perspective on how to design and build parks,” she said.