A Rocky Point future
Organic” best describes the development that has taken place since the state secured the future of the former Rocky Point amusement park from private ownership and opened it to public use.
State purchase of 84 acres, made possible with Rhode Island voter approval of an open space bond issue of the 2010 ballot united the core of the amusement park – what was the Midway, sites of the Palladium, Shore Dinner Hall and massive parking lot – with the 41 acres of shore line acquired by the city with the help of state and federal grants. Also part of the state package is the rocky ridge running along the western perimeter of the park and what was once the summer cottage community of Rocky Beach.
After the Small Business Administration was appointed as the bankruptcy court receiver in the late 1990s and the entire parcel was auctioned, it appeared luxury homebuilders Toll Brothers would develop the site for condominiums and one if not two apartment towers. As many as 399 housing units were proposed. As history tells us the downturn in the housing market put the brakes on the plan. Yet even after the city saved the coastal ribbon from development, developers vied for the opportunity to transform the remaining acreage into a housing project.
That didn’t happen and as we know the Federal District Court approved the sale to the state.
Our point is that while as an amusement park Rocky Point was a place for the thrills of fast action whether on the Corkscrew or the Flume, its evolution since it closed has been snail-like. It was more than a year after acquiring the shoreline that the city opened a walking and biking trail. Cleanup of the remains of the park including the demolition of the Palladium and Shore Dinner Hall took far longer. The park we know today, while far removed from what it once was, did not happen overnight.
What we are seeing in terms of park usage is likewise evolving. One of the first activities bringing more than 100 onto the state property even before it was cleared, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey conducted a bio-blitz of the park that documented almost 1,000 species of plants, animals, insects, crustaceans, birds and fish. The park has become the venue for additional educational as well as athletic and entertainment programs. The Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce has taken a leading role with the Rocky Point 5K and its summer movie series that opens tonight. But, by no means, are they a singular force. Next month there will be an unveiling for ten signs posted at the locations of park amusement attractions that is the work of Leadership Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Foundation has played a role with a community grant to the Rocky Point Foundation enabling the painting of the arch that was done by city crews.
DEM Director Janet Coit, who was at the park Tuesday for the opening of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers youth fishing camp [yet another planned activity at the park], remarked on these “passive uses” of the park. As reported in today’s Beacon, she also spoke about the opening of the on-site park parking lot now that guardrails have been installed and progress on a new pier with construction starting as soon as this year.
We share in Coit’s belief that this organic approach to park development has been fruitful. It beats a “cookie cutter” master plan or a “stop and wait” approach that might have been the alternatives. People are getting to know the “new” Rocky Point while retaining the fond memories of what it was.
As the state moves toward a master plan for the park – a request for proposals is in the process of being drafted – we look for fresh perspectives from those who may be seeing the park for a first time as well as the ideas of those who have watched and been a part of the Rocky Point show.