By JOHN HOWELL Mayor Frank Picozzi wants to give Warwick a center. Yesterday with the cleared site of the former City Annex as a backdrop and a blustery wind that kicked up dust, Picozzi disclosed his dream for "City Plaza" - a place for residents to
Mayor Frank Picozzi wants to give Warwick a center.
Yesterday with the cleared site of the former City Annex as a backdrop and a blustery wind that kicked up dust, Picozzi disclosed his dream for “City Plaza” – a place for residents to gather for concerts, outdoor movies, food truck events, ballroom and square dancing, pickle ball, roller skating, shows and Christmas carols sung by school choruses. Grounds around City Hall would be park-like with plenty of green. The centerpiece to the plaza would be an outdoor skating rink approximately the size to that in Providence. Depending on the weather, the mayor estimates the rink would be open to ice skating from late November through March.
Picozzi sees the development as becoming a major attraction that would draw people into Apponaug Village stimulating the growth of local businesses and giving Warwick the center it lacks. He expects rink rentals, concessions, skating fees and naming rights will pay for staff, operating costs and maintenance. He called it “self sustaining” at an afternoon press conference attended by council members and city directors.
City Planner Tom Kravitz estimated the cost of the project including the rink, related facilities and landscaping of City Hall grounds at $5 million. Assuming the funding falls into place and necessary council approvals, Kravitz thought the rink and related improvements could be completed in two years.
In an interview Tuesday, Picozzi said he became intrigued by an outdoor rink and what it could mean to the city before his election. Once in office, Picozzi pursued the idea and where a rink would be best located. He considered the Mickey Stevens Sports Complex, which has two indoor skating rinks, but ruled that out because there is no nearby commercial activity that could benefit from the activity.
Picozzi contacted Providence and met with those who run that rink. He sees it as a full time job involving scheduling, operations and oversight. He said there are some things he would do differently than Providence, including the option of a rink canopy that could provide lighting and the structure for Christmas lights.
Assuming the plan gets council approval, Picozzi looks to have a City Plaza director independent of the city Recreation Department whose office would be located in the basement of City Hall. The development would have a building separate from the rink for skate rentals, rest rooms and for a Zamboni for maintaining the ice surface.
“Warwick has been screaming for something like this,” Picozzi said. While there are village events whether they be in Pawtuxet, Conimicut, Oakland Beach, Norwood or other communities, with the exception of events such as the Gaspee Days parade and National Night Out, they are a neighborhood in nature. Picozzi sees City Hall and police and fire headquarters as the governmental heart to the city and a central place on which to build a community center.
And what would it cost and where would the money come from?
Picozzi is looking at four potential sources of revenue.
The mayor said his vision really took flight when he learned voters approved of a recreation bond in 2006 of which $3.5 million has not been issued. Picozzi said he would look for City Council approval of the bond funds as early as next month so that the planning and design of the park could start as soon as possible. Additional funding could come from a $5 million “earmarked” grant from Senator Jack Reed (if those funds become available they could not be used for the rink as it would be an income generator), an economic development grant and Community Development Block Grant funds.
The proposal has gotten a thumbs up from Michael Rooney, president of the Apponaug Improvement Association and City Council President Steve McAllister who represents Ward 7 where the rink would be located.
Rooney said the rink would make the village a “destination” that would help businesses and economic development.
Rooney, who served as director of recreation during the administration of former Mayor Scott Avedisian, said this rink would be different from those the city has now.
“I don’t think you can compare it to Thayer,” he said. He could see City Plaza as providing more time for rent at Thayer as public skating could be held in Apponaug.
Ironically seeing that ice and frozen pipes spelled the demise of the City Hall Annex, an ice rink is being eyed as a means of revitalizing Apponaug.
“I’m very excited to be here today,” McAllister said addressing the windblown audience. He said he is “ecstatic” as the project will help the goal to revitalize Apponaug.
Four years ago, a pipe on the annex’s second floor froze over a long weekend spraying hot water and filling the building with steam. By the time the break was discovered, ceiling tiles of the first floor offices of the assessors had fallen – there was an inch of water on the floor and a good portion of the rest of the offices were dripping. Former Mayor Scott Avedisian quickly relocated a majority of the offices to vacant classrooms in the former Greene Elementary School. When Joseph Solomon became mayor the offices were relocated again to the former Buttonwoods Community Center that are closer to City Hall.
Later this year, the offices are projected to relocate to a more permanent location, the revived Saw Tooth building of the former Apponaug now owned by AAA Northeast. Under a 15-year renewal lease, AAA is building out the municipal offices. A portion of the building will also house AAA offices now located on Centerville Road.
As for the old annex, Picozzi settled the city’s insurance claim for the cost of demolishing the structure.
With the press conference coming to a close, Picozzi asked for any additional questions.
When there were none he volunteered an answer.
“I can’t skate.”
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