No idea is too small, too big or too crazy.
That’s what Mike Dowhan said at the start of a public hearing Tuesday at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet to solicit ideas on the future of Rocky Point. And there were some unique suggestions for what should be built at the former amusement park as well as impassioned statements for a piece of land that means so much to so many.
“We want to bring the park back; I don’t know about you guys,” said Amanda Augusta of Riverside to an audience of more than 350. Her remark was greeted with cheers. She went on to define what her table of eight would like to see. She listed a boardwalk, an aquarium, bike and walking trails – “something for everyone.”
The ideas kept coming.
As Dowhan, senior landscape architect with the firm of Veri/Waterman that facilitated the forum run by the Rocky Point Foundation, moved from table to table with a cordless microphone, some suggestions, such as bringing back some or all of the rides, were repeated. There were just as adamant arguments to never go back to what it used to be.
The spokesman for one table – everyone was given about 40 minutes to discuss their ideas and mark them on an aerial photograph of the park – wanted to see an education center and a venue for classical, rock and jazz concerts.
“Stay away, Six Flags,” he said to enthusiastic applause.
That sentiment was echoed more than once, although there was equal, if not more, support to bring back the rides on a permanent or seasonal basis.
There were suggestions for a zip line, outdoor ice rink, camp grounds and a luxury hotel at one end of the park offset by affordable cabins at the other end, where tenants would be chosen by lottery.
Ferry service to other state parks, a favorite of Gov. Lincoln Chafee who brought opening remarks, was a popular vision. Ferry service and water taxis are seen as a means of reducing neighborhood traffic and providing easy access to the park from the East Bay. Pointing out the park has a deepwater dock; William Hickey of Warwick said it could accommodate the QE2.
Themes included the use of wind and solar power, playing fields, a museum, a restaurant and place to bring back the now defunct state fair.
Kevin Corey of Cranston was so keen on that idea that he handed out a two-page proposal to the media and representatives of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Corey called the land “a blank slate” on which to “draw up a new destination and restart the Rocky Point and state fair traditions.” His dream included a park with trails that covered coastal woodlands, marshlands and craggy cliffs, with platforms to view the bay.
There was a plea for rock climbing and for use of the park in all seasons with cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails in the winter.
Rob Cote of Warwick suggested a 300-room hotel with a cylindrical aquarium with a spiral staircase and an indoor water park with ferry service.
Another proposal called for dividing the park into three areas, with one left in its natural state and the others to have rides, video games and retail outlets.
Paul Earnshaw, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, advocated the development of existing park wetlands to gather runoff water and as outdoor classrooms.
Among the crazier ideas were hot air balloon and helicopter rides and that of Jason Mayoh, whose “crazy” idea was a “haunted walking tour” on Halloween. The suggestion was cheered, as his display of his collection of Rocky Point memorabilia was set up at the entrance of the ballroom especially for Tuesday’s meeting.
Then there was the proposal that came toward the end of the two-hour meeting from a woman who had been frantically waving to get Dowhan’s attention and a turn at the microphone.
She wanted a giant Rocky Point lobster, tipping a top hat and carrying a cane. This was to be so big and lit up at night that it could be seen from across the bay.
At the outset of the meeting, Dowhan highlighted some remaining features of the former park, including the iron tower for a swing ride built more than 100 years ago; and the remnants of an observation tower that is even older; stanchions for the Skyliner ride; and, of course, the arch. He said the Shore Dinner Hall and the Palladium restaurant; the two largest remaining structures on the property, can’t be saved and will need to come down. DEM hopes to complete that demolition this summer and clean up other rubble on the land so that at least some of the property can be opened to the public by late this year. Gov. Chafee’s budget allocates $2.5 million to the cleanup.