Perhaps that’s the best metaphor to describe state efforts to preserve the remaining 82 acres of the former Rocky Point amusement park as public space.
Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Director Janet Coit is hoping to reach an agreement with the Small Business Administration (SBA), court appointed receiver for the property, sometime this spring. She would have liked things to move faster. Mark Hayward, regional SBA director, is also anxious. “We would have liked to move a little quicker,” he said Friday. He said he has had “a few conversations with Janet” but the primary delay can be attributed to extenuating circumstances, including an accident suffered by the man in Washington who must ultimately sign off on an agreement who is still recovering from a fall.
Yet, Hayward says, “They [the state] know where we’re coming from. We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
In November of 2010 voters approved a $14.7 million bond referendum that earmarked $10 million to buy the remaining acres. That land, making up most of the former park’s interior, including the storm-damaged and collapsing Shore Dinner Hall and Palladium, would be combined with the 41 acres of shoreline the city acquired with a combination of federal, state and city funds totaling $4.4 million in December 2007.
While there has been progress with the two other projects financed by the bond – acquisition of the former Shooters property in Providence and improvements to Fort Adams in Newport – nothing has happened at Rocky Point.
“I see Janet [Coit] and the governor frequently,” Hayward said, “and I know of their interest. It has not been removed from the radar screen.”
With the help of the Rocky Point Foundation, a non-profit formed to save the remaining acres, an appraisal was completed. That gave the DEM the basis to start negotiations.
Coit said the DEM has also contracted for a study of the remedial work needed at the park. At the request of Mayor Scott Avedisian, who feared they were a safety and fire hazard, the buildings of the former park Midway have been torn down, but the debris is piled high on the site. There are also issues with buildings foundations, dumpsites and deteriorating Rocky Beach cottages.
Coit is hoping for grants to help with the cleanup when the state owns the property. The report is also the logical next step to deciding whether, or how, the property should be developed. There have been numerous proposals, from leaving the land open and crisscrossed with nature trails, to allowing some commercial development, such as a hotel, to some form of athletic complex with playing fields and a restored Palladium.
But before its future is discussed, the state has to acquire the land.
Even as the “chefs” of the deal say it’s ready to be served up, it’s ultimately what happens in court that will determine the outcome.
The sale will need the approval of the Federal District Court and, according to its procedures; a qualified buyer has the right to step in with a bid that is at least 10 percent higher than the agreed price with the state and scoop up the property. That’s what happened more than four years ago, when developer Nicholas Cambio and Universal Properties stepped in with a $17.1 million bid in response to Leach Family Holding’s agreement for the land. Cambio never consummated the deal. By that time, with the housing market in a spin, Leach was no longer interested in making a second bid.
Avedisian has stayed in tune with what’s going on in the metaphoric “kitchen,” talking with Coit, Hayward and the City Council.
“I think that all of the state’s stakeholders have agreed in principle on a course of action to be taken. In addition, I have had conversations with every member of the City Council on an individual basis about what I think the city’s role should be in this process. The rest of the property is an incredible jewel and I will do whatever I can to bring this plan to fruition,” he said.
Using the cooking metaphor once again, Hayward suggested the parties be patient.
“This is more in a crock pot [than on a burner] and I think it’s cooking,” he said.