Now that the state owns the last 82 acres, all that once was the Rocky Point Amusement Park is publicly owned. Some of the first visitors are likely to be driving trucks and wrecking cranes.
Demolition of what’s still standing of the Shore Dinner Hall, the Palladium and Windjammer and the Rocky Beach cottages is foremost in the mind of DEM deputy director Larry Mouradjian. Mouradjian is looking to remove the physical hazards on the property as quickly as possible. But that doesn’t mean the state will erase every vestige of the amusement park that enjoyed a 154-year run before going bankrupt and closing in 1995. Mouradjian said the state isn’t planning to take down the arch or the stanchions for the Skyliner. What’s left of the observation tower, which was erected in 1865, and the iron structure that once served as the heart of a swing ride, and now looks like a radio tower, may also be saved.
While Department of Environmental Management police will provide park security, Mouradjian is concerned for the safety of trespassers who escape their attention. On a recent visit to the site, prior to the transfer of title to the state, Mouradjian said four or five kids were spotted on the partially caved-in roof of the Shore Dinner Hall. He said the department might fence off the Palladium and Shore Dinner Hall to add another level of protection now and during demolition. As for the Rocky Beach cottages, the DEM and the city have already had talks about razing them. The city’s Department of Public Works removed about a dozen of the private cottages when it acquired 41 acres of park shoreline and will assist with this next phase.
Please don’t think that people can be down there yet. Mayor Scott Avedisian said Thursday, following the signing of the documents transferring the 82 acres from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the court-appointed receiver, to the state.
Avedisian said the city’s 41 acres would probably have to close at some point during the cleanup of the larger parcel. He also said one of the first things signed following the state acquisition was an agreement giving the city full access to its 41 acres of shoreline.
Presiding over the press announcement, Avedisian focused his comments on the people who made the acquisition possible. “We wouldn’t be here without Janet Coit, she never once stopped believing it could happen,” he said of the DEM director.
He also spoke of the efforts of the state’s Congressional delegation and of Mark Hayward, district director of the SBA; the City Council that abated about $2 million of taxes on the land; and Dan Geagan of the planning department, who worked on the acquisition of the city’s 41 acres and worked closely with the state on the remaining land.
Coit spoke of Gov. Lincoln Chafee and his commitment to preserving the park, which predates his tenure in the State House, and recognized the people of Rhode Island and their affection for the park that brought approval of a bond issue in 2010 for its acquisition.
“It’s the people who spoke and [who] will benefit,” she said. Coit envisioned a day when people will be fishing and flying kites. She hopes that access will come in the next 12 months and that the park’s future will include a private-public partnership to provide amenities and income. Ideas on how the park should be developed will be solicited from the public by the Rocky Point Foundation. The non-profit organization lobbied to get a $10 million bond on the 2010 ballot and for voter approval. The group has planned the first of a possible series of public meetings for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7 at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet. Their findings will be included in a report available to state officials and the public as development of the park is discussed.
Senator Jack Reed called acquisition of the park a collaborative effort at every level. He spoke of how the park has memories for so many.
“That is the past,” said Reed, “the future is going to be even better.”
“This is an exciting day,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He said it was so exciting that he even thought he caught the aroma of fresh cooked clamcakes. There were laughs. Indeed, the smell of clamcakes lingered in the air, courtesy of Iggy’s, who gave them out in Rocky Point bags.
“If this is anybody’s day, it’s Governor Chafee’s,” Whitehouse said and congratulated Mayor Avedisian on his work.
“He did everything possible within the rules,” he said.
Congressman James Langevin called the occasion a historic moment that wouldn’t have been possible without teamwork. Alluding to developers who viewed the site for the development of hundreds of condominiums, Langevin said it was the mayor and the council that put the brakes on a “land grab” and said “‘Not so fast’” to private interests.
Even Hayward, who, representing the SBA, faced the task of recovering as much money as possible for the park’s creditors and often at odds with those seeking public ownership, said he was happy with the outcome. “Janet Coit has been a terrific partner,” he said. He traced the SBA’s actions to recover its loans back to 1994 and the bankruptcy of the Captain Rocky Point Kiddy Park in Massachusetts. He mentioned bids for the property that ranged from $15.6 million to $25 million from three developers that eventually backed away. In the end, the state paid $9.65 million for 82 acres. With a combination of federal and local funds, the city paid $4.4 million for its 41 acres.
Coit said the governor has included $2.5 million in his budget for cleanup of the property. And Terrance Gray, of DEM’s environmental protection division, said that, while surveys have found the property clear of hazardous material, the state has done the up-front work to make it eligible for brownfields funding if something like a buried fuel tank is found. Possible uses of the park had people already dreaming on Thursday. Topher Hamblett of Save the Bay was one of them.
He saw a fishing pier and environmental education programs and called the opportunities “spectacular.”
“Very few things are forever,” he said, crediting Coit with the comment, but he added, “Rocky Point is forever.”