Boosting hopes that all of the former Rocky Point Amusement Park will be saved for public use, Governor Lincoln Chafee announced yesterday that the Small Business Administration has accepted the state’s offer of $9.65 million to buy the remaining 82 acres of Rocky Point Park. The $9.65 million would be paid from a $10 million bond approved by voters in 2010, and the land would be turned into a state park.
The SBA, as the court-appointed receiver for Moneta Capital Corporation, must present the offer to the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island for approval.
“There is a process,” said Mark Hayward, SBA district director, at yesterday’s announcement. “So while we have made major steps … we are 98.7 percent of the way. We do have a little bit more to go.”
In 2007, the city purchased 41 acres of Rocky Point made possible by a $2.2 million federal grant and $1.2 million in state funds. The land has since been turned into a walking path that winds along the perimeter of the grounds; but the remaining 82 acres of the land still hangs in the balance. Since the Rocky Point Amusement Park’s closure in 1995, there have been two unsuccessful attempts to turn that land into a housing development, but with the collapse of the housing market they fell through.
As far as the state’s acquisition of the property, Hayward is hopeful the “third time will be a charm.”
“We have initialed a deal with the state of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management,” he said.
Now, the SBA has provided a draft purchase and sales agreement to the State Properties Commission for review. Once approved, the SBA must go before the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island before the deal can be finalized. The process, said Hayward, will likely take several months.
Governor Chafee said the SBA agreement is just the beginning of a “long, litigious” process to acquire the land and turn it into a state park. He extended his thanks to Mayor Avedisian, legislators, the SBA, the Rocky Point Foundation and the 205,218 Rhode Islanders who voted in favor of the bond referendum in 2010.
Those who have worked most closely on the project to regain the land at Rocky Point, including elected officials from the state and local levels, members of Save the Bay and those from the Rocky Point Foundation, gathered at Monday’s announcement on the Rocky Point grounds near the former salt water swimming pool.
“The Palladium, the Shore Dinner Hall, all of that was part of growing up in Rhode Island,” said Senator Jack Reed, who worked to obtain the $2.2 million grant that funded the initial purchase of the Point’s 41 acres. “We’re going to preserve those memories and preserve the feeling that has always been here in Rocky Point.”
He quoted a vaudeville performer from 1902 that called Rocky Point “the most beautiful picnic spot in Rhode Island, where the humble folk used to bring their families and sit under the beautiful shade trees with their lunch baskets.”
“Well, when this park is developed,” said Reed, “that will happen again.”
Lisa Primiano, deputy chief of the State Land Conservation and Acquisition Program for the Rhode Island DEM, called the SBA’s acceptance of the state’s offer the “fist step in a process.”
“It’s not a done deal,” she said. “There’s still a lot of things happening.”
As far as the agreements of the deal go, beyond the $9.65 million offer, the state will designate a minimum of 50 of the 82 acres to open space, conservation or accessory spaces, like parking. Primiano said the land will undergo an extensive environmental assessment, and she suspects not all pieces of the land will be developed. The 82 acres also includes three residential lots, one of which has an occupied home on it. Primiano said they are considering whether to put those back on the private market. The lots combined are less than two acres of land.
“It’s really quite remarkable the jewels that Rhode Island has for public spaces,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “This is absolutely going to be the crown jewel in all of those wonderful public spaces that Rhode Islanders are able to enjoy.”
Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, echoed Whitehouse, also calling Rocky Point a “crown jewel.”
Stone said the development of Rocky Point into a public park would realize the vision that Governor John Chafee had nearly 50 years ago to create a bay island park system that could be accessed by both car and boat.
With the possibility of adding a boat ramp and increasing water access for Rhode Islanders, Stone said Rocky Point could be “even better” in the future than it was when it was privately owned.
“It has been a long, long process, but a good process in the end,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian. Avedisian said the state acquisition of the land would be one of the largest open space purchases in Rhode Island history.
The mayor thanked those who believed in the project for their support and patience, saying at some points, people probably thought it would never happen.
“It goes to show you that slow and steady really does win the race,” he said. “Really, this is a great win for all of Rhode Island and all of Warwick.”
Congressman Jim Langevin said he has fond childhood memories of Rocky Point, and is proud to see positive developments in the state’s purchase of such significant land.
“It’s one of the highlights of my many years in public office to be a part of this effort,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “I know there’s a couple more hurdles to go, but we’re closer than we ever have been.”
Beacon editor and publisher John Howell, who also serves as chairman of the Rocky Point Foundation, handed out “Get the Point” bumper stickers to the dignitaries present at Monday’s announcement. A self-proclaimed purveyor of “bad puns,” Howell got the crowd laughing with his props and wit.
“We want to make sure this deal is going to stick,” he said as he passed the bumper stickers to Senators Reed and Whitehouse.
He also handed out original Rocky Point clam cake bags, saying he hopes there will be clams in the bags at the next press conference.
“I’ll give these to our elected officials,” he said. “And when they get it in the bag, come on back.”
Watch a video of the governor’s announcement featuring commentary from elected officials, the SBA, DEM and Rocky Point Foundation members at www.warwickonline.com.