Coming in September: A new Rocky Point
Fast-forward, but not too far forward, to the last weekend in September.
Now, imagine a festival with some amusement park rides, music and food and, perhaps, clamcakes and chowder. Naturally, seeing it’s that kind of an occasion, the governor and a bevy of top elected officials would be in attendance.
That’s part of what Larry Mouradjian, associate director of Natural Resources for the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), has in mind for the first re-opening of Rocky Point since the amusement park closed in 1995.
While rides, clamcakes and music may sound like the state is trying to bring back the old park, don’t be fooled. The intent of a festival-like opening, Mouradjian said Tuesday, is to show off what a cleaned up Rocky Point looks like, and to open people’s minds to the possibilities of what it can become. And, foremost, it’s an event to showcase what the people of Rhode Island have acquired.
“They’re making great progress,” Mouradjian said. “You’re able to see views that haven’t been seen since this was built.” Mouradjian was standing on what was once the cement floor to the Palladium. To his side was a giant pile of twisted steel beams, iron pipes, valves, rumpled steel chairs, motors and other scrap metal to be recycled.
In front of him, the cement carousel pad still stood but jackhammers and a shovel working nearby would soon be breaking apart the final recognizable footing to a Midway ride. Beyond where the carousel once rotated, machinery rumbled as it leveled the ground and provided a view of a bowl-like enclosure.
“I see great potential,” said Mouradjian.
He sees that open area, which will be further graded before being seeded, as providing a venue for festival-like activities.
But that’s just a part of what the 82 acres offer. Mouradjian’s thought is for a “giant loop,” a trail connecting to the 41 acres of shore owned by the city and would take people through wooded sections, up to the rocky heights with “great visuals,” and across open fields.
Bringing the former amusement park and that section known as Rocky Beach to where it can be safely accessed by the public is on schedule and on budget, according to Jonathan P. Key, president of HK&S Construction of North Kingstown, who has been contracted to do the cleanup for $3,064,976.
“The time has been most challenging,” Key said when asked what has been the most difficult aspect of the cleanup. By contract, HK&S has 75 days to complete the demolition and cleanup, and 90 days to remove and clean up the Rocky Beach cottages.
The 75-day deadline is Sept. 8.
“We’re working long days and Saturday, but we’ll get there,” said Key.
He estimated 60 percent of the project is complete at this point. Key, who is 30, said he was 8 or 10 when he visited the park. He remembers the flume.
What about the cork screw?
“I was too young to ride that,” he said.
Nonetheless, Key has heard about most of the rides when acquaintances learn he is working on Rocky Point. He said it seems everyone has a story about the park.
Mouradjian said, with the cleanup completed, the former one-way exit to Palmer Avenue would be opened to two-way traffic, but only for special events, such as the opening. A portion of the former parking lot north of the Palladium is being retained, but parking lots east of the Windjammer are being ground up and graded for fields.
Mouradjian doesn’t expect unsupervised access to the park until the next phase of redevelopment is complete.
“That won’t happen until we get down the road further on development,” he said.
He envisions the next phase as evaluating the utility infrastructure, including water and electrical lines. The park does not have access to sewers at this time and, for the moment, Mouradjian is considering the use of Trails Project System funds to install composting toilets that have been successful at other parks. Trail funds will be used to build trails.
DEM does not have the funds for park infrastructure at this point but Governor Lincoln Chafee included $2.5 million to reconstruct the park pier in his $75 million Clean Water Open Space and Health Communities bond issue, which will be listed on the November ballot. Legislators, however, reallocated funding and the pier was omitted.
Citing the public forum on development more than a year ago and the more recent collaboration with the Rhode Island School of Design on park design, Mouradjian said many ideas have emerged. He’s anxious to see that discussion continue and imagines, with the cleanup completed, people will have even more suggestions.
Mouradjian called the opening “a small celebratory moment when everyone can see the cleanup.”
But it’s more than that.
“It keeps the energy up for the ideas and types of facilities people would like,” he said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
The immediate goal, he added, is “access and public use as quick as possible.”
Mouradjian said DEM has a “tremendous working relationship with the city.”
He sees that as critical to concerns of the park’s neighbors, as well as overseeing operations going forward. He also sees a role for the public. From the experience DEM has had with the Blackstone River bike and walking path, he expects that park users will become park stewards. He said they serve as “eyes and ears” for the DEM and assume a sense of ownership and responsibility for the park.