Leave it to Governor Lincoln Chafee to correlate the longest day of the year and ongoing efforts to secure all of the former Rocky Point amusement park for public space.
Chafee visited the park Tuesday with Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit and Mayor Scott Avedisian on a tour lead by Mark Hayward, district director of the Small Business Administration. The group left a bevy of reporters outside the boarded and faded remains of the Palladium and Windjammer to meander down the weed-choked Midway in the direction of where the House of Horrors once stood.
“Drop a trail of breadcrumbs,” advised Lisa Primiano of DEM as her boss disappeared in a tangle of shrubs and poison ivy interrupted only by piles of debris.
The tour was set up at the governor’s request. Voters approved $10 million for acquisition of the park’s remaining acres and Chafee was seeking to get an update on that project and also to see the site.
Chafee learned that the state has contracted for an appraisal of the park and has been talking with the SBA, the court appointed receiver of the property. He heard, too, that there are no guarantees that the state will end up with the land and that the process could be lengthy.
“This is the longest day of the year and I don’t want to make this the longest project in state history,” Chafee said in response to Hayward’s explanation.
But while the future of the park’s remaining 83 acres remains uncertain, the 41 acres of shoreline acquired by the city on Dec. 31, 2007 for $4.4 million is ready to make its debut.
This Friday at 12:15 p.m., federal, state and city officials will open the paved coastline walkway that has been the subject of extensive landscaping and cleanup efforts by city workers over the past several months. The city land is fenced off from the remaining park property and is accessible from the Rocky Point entrance on Rocky Point Avenue. A parking lot is at the gates and no motorized vehicles are being permitted into the park.
On Tuesday, city crews put finishing touches to the property that has been enhanced with the plantings of trees and shrubs provided and planted by Shaw’s and Pepsi employees two weeks ago.
“It’s a great beginning,” Avedisian said of the 41 acres, “Now we want to talk about the future of this [the remaining 83 acres].”
Since the park closed in 1995, the future of Rocky Point has been on a roller coaster itself. Before the collapse of the housing market, SBA accepted the $25 million offer of Vanderbilt LLC and Toll Brothers for the full park property. Toll Brothers had plans to build nearly 400 condos and townhouses before backing away from the plan over resistance from the city and issues of water and sewer services.
While the city and state negotiated to get the shoreline, SBA entertained an offer from Leach Family Holdings for the remaining parcel but that fell by the wayside when Federal District Court awarded the higher $17.1 million bid of Universal Properties and its principal Nicholas Cambio. Cambio, however, didn’t come up with the money by the scheduled deadline and other prospective buyers lost interest as the market soured.
On Tuesday, Hayward said there continues to be developer interest in the site, although with Chafee and Coit as his audience, he was more interested in pursuing state acquisition of the property.
Coit wants that to happen, too.
“We have the money now,” she said, referring to the bond issue, “Now we need to make a deal.”
Hayward didn’t make it sound easy.
“We still have a number of other creditors, who are under the seal of the court,” he said.
He said those creditors include pension funds.
“I would like to move this on…I’m getting pretty old,” he added.
But Hayward said there’s more to conveying the property than reaching an agreement on the price. He pointed out that a qualified buyer could step before the court and outbid the state by a minimum of 10 percent and, even if the state overcame that obstacle, creditors can appeal the action that would delay the conveyance.
“We want to see the property move on,” Hayward said. He said his office has had “a good dialogue” with the DEM.
Coit expects an appraisal to be completed later this summer. And, looking ahead to state acquisition of the land, she also looks forward to public discussion of how the property should be developed. Coit and Avedisian share the view that there should be some form of commercial activity on the property, whether as basic as a restaurant serving clam cakes and chowder or a larger venue that could generate funds to sustain park operations.
Chafee reminisced about the park, naming some of the rides and recalling that his first installation as mayor of Warwick in January 1993 was held in the Windjammer.
Avedisian said the city worked hard to get the 41 acres of shoreline open “as soon as possible.”
“We need to make sure the rest of the park is preserved and turn this into the Colt State Park of the West Bay.”