Bev Wiley, City Director of Parks and Recreation, says pickleball courts are on the top of inquiries about the city’s athletic facilities. She places the interest in the …
Bev Wiley, City Director of Parks and Recreation, says pickleball courts are on the top of inquiries about the city’s athletic facilities. She places the interest in the game – a mix between tennis and ping pong where players use paddles to hit a ball larger than a tennis ball on a court about half the size of a tennis court – on the city’s snowbirds. Pickleball has become a highly popular game in Florida among older players, and Wiley says many requests are from residents who winter in Florida and summer in Warwick.
Parks and Recreation reconfigured some Mickey Stevens tennis courts for pickleball some years ago, but use of the courts for either pickleball or tennis has withered with deterioration of the courts. The same can be said for the complexes three baseball fields.
So, what’s the future for the Mickey Stevens Sport Complex that, in addition to outdoor facilities, is home for two ice skating rinks and a swimming pool? The future could well depend on what’s under those baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts.
The sports complex was once the site of a city landfill and incinerator. It is recognized by the Department of Environmental Management as a regulated property due to its former use. With the award of a RIDEM $419,181 Brownfields Grant, the administration has awarded the firm of VHB a $245,975 contract to perform an investigation of the site to supplement VHB’s study of the property in 2006 when Warwick voters approved a $7 million bond for improvements to Mickey Stevens. The aim of the newest study, according to the May 13 submission by VHB, is to “adequately assess the nature and extent of potential site contamination based on current property redevelopment plans and changes of DEM regulations and limited site remediation support services.”
It’s not that there haven’t been plans for the redevelopment of Mickey Stevens Sports Complex even though it’s been 16 years since voters approved funding and expectations of new and enhanced facilities were talked about.
Solomon proposal not likely
The future of Mickey Stevens resurfaced during the 2020 campaign for mayor when incumbent mayor Joseph Solomon unveiled a plan for an expanded complex with a third rink, new fields, a track and stadium for high school football, soccer and other games. Solomon considered a mix of funding sources for the development including the 2006 bond, naming rights for specific components and grants, although he never released a projected cost for the project.
The plan was labeled as impractical and an election gimmick by independent Frank Picozzi. Now that Picozzi is in office, Mickey Stevens is getting a second look although nothing as grand as the Solomon plan is being contemplated.
Wiley is reluctant to speculate what the complex could look like.
“There are a lot of options,” she said in an interview Friday. Depending on the findings of the VHB study, she pointed out that remedial actions that could include the removal and or the encapsulation of contaminated soils may require the reconfiguration of the complex that could then require Federal Aviation Administration approvals as to the positioning of field lights and their impact on operations at Rhode Island TF Green International Airport. Portions of the sports complex are within the landing pattern of Runway 16-34. Wiley said suggestions she’s heard include a walking track and small dog park as complex additions with, of course, pickleball courts. She doesn’t see the need for a concessions building, noting that food trucks can fulfill that need, but would like to have restroom facilities.
She doesn’t see a need for a skate park that the complex once had, but now is closed as there are facilities in Oakland Beach and a rink in City Park.
Wiley points out that the city has a plethora of athletic fields ranging from fields used for neighborhood pickup games of basketball, soccer and softball like Vernon Field to Little League fields like those run by Warwick North and Continental to facilities such as those at Winslow Park, Confreda Fields, City Park, CCRI and the high schools and middle schools.
Wiley said the interest in organized sports and demand for fields is high.
“There are always people looking for fields,” she said. She added that the sports community is “looking for decent fields and know what we’ve got.”
Sports in Warwick are also a significant economic driver. In announcing 82.4 percent July occupancy rate for Warwick 16 hotels , Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Visitors Convention Bureau said Warwick is host to many regional youth athletic events. Mickey Stevens has played a role in national events, too. The city’s two ice rinks served as practice facilities for the SynchroEast championships held at the Dunkin Donuts Center and hosted by the Warwick Figure Skaters attracting more than 2,000 competitors from Maine to Florida in 2004.
As for the Mickey Stevens fields, Wiley sees them, “as really baseball and semi-pro if you like.”
VNB has outlined a series of steps in assessing the extent of contamination and need for remedial actions including development of a work plan, a public meeting, a health and safety plan and a combination of test pitting soil borings, groundwater monitoring well installations, soil vapor monitoring points and groundwater assessment.
Wiley anticipates conducting a public meeting about the future of Mickey Stevens in October on a date and location to be announced.
She foresees Mickey Stevens facilities as augmenting the parks, beaches and fields that collectively provide opportunities to residents and visitors.
“We should be a show place,” she said.
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