One chapter is about to close and another about to open that will finally tell of the park’s fate since the rides went silent at Rocky Point Amusement park 18 years ago.
On Feb. 13 at 2 p.m., in the Federal District Court in Providence, Justice Ronald Lagueux will consider the petition of the Small Business Administration (SBA) to sell about 83 acres of the former park to the state for $9.65 million. The SBA has been the court-appointed receiver for the property since shortly after the property was shuttered. If the sale is completed, all 124 acres of the park will have been saved for public use.
Although a sale to the state is not a guarantee, no other party has come forward as a prospective purchaser at this time.
A buyer other than the state would have to come up with an offer at least 10 percent higher than the $9.65 million sales price, a deposit of $965,000 and be prepared to pay about $2.2 million in city taxes. The Warwick City Council agreed to abate those taxes last year if the state gets the land.
But there’s more a purchaser would need to consider than another $3 million. They would also be required to follow the terms of the agreement between the SBA and the state. The conditions of the sale require that 55 acres be kept as open space, thereby reducing potential development of the site. Also, a development would need city approval and have to meet sewer requirements and gain water runoff easements, which were issues back when the property was actively pursued by developers.
Under the court order, the SBA is to provide the court with an affidavit indicating that appraisals of the property are in line with the state’s offer.
“The process is moving on. We’re looking forward to the finality,” SBA District Director Mark Hayward said Friday.
The next step toward preserving the park is also being welcomed by Mayor Scott Avedisian and Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit.
“As I've said right along, at DEM, we want to engage in
a smart process that will hold up over time. We need to ensure that plans for development are done in a way that is environmentally and economically sustainable," Coit said in an email response to questions yesterday.
Also reached by email, Avedisian said, “First, we want to make sure that we get the property. Then we need to empanel a group to manage the property. We are getting many requests for permission to use the property either on a one-time basis or for a regular use.”
Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur would like to get a complete picture of cleanup costs before attempting to open any of the property to the public. Possible pollutants on the site and what it will take to clean them up concern him.
“Rocky Point is an extremely important asset. There is no need to rush into a plan. A plan needs to be sustainable and affordable,” he said.
Ladouceur also feels it could be shortsighted for the state to sell off any of the property, such as that on Palmer Avenue.
“I don’t see any point to do anything until we have a rock solid plan. Let’s not rush into it,” he said.
DEM has started looking at the cleanup, as has the city.
Coit said DEM has contracted for an environmental assessment of the site and she expects a combination of state and federal resources, in close collaboration with the city of Warwick, to clean up the site.
"I appreciate the close working relationship we have had with the city of Warwick and look forward to pursuing these next steps in the process,” said Coit. “Once secured, DEM will work with the mayor, Rocky Point Foundation and others to discuss the plans to develop this outstanding site for the future."
Avedisian said acting Department of Public Works Director David Picozzi and his crew would put together a plan for the removal of the rest of the Rocky Beach cottages. The mayor also reported that the office of Senator Jack Reed has been in contact with Kenneth Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, concerning possible cleanup grants.
After the SBA was appointed receiver for the park, luxury homebuilders Toll Brothers bid $25 million for the full park. They had plans to build two apartment towers in addition to townhouses for a total of almost 399 housing units. As the recession set in and the housing market took a hit, Toll Brothers backed out of that deal.
Universal Properties and its president Nicholas Cambio stepped on the stage with a $19 million bid for the park. Cambio claimed he couldn’t reach easement agreements with the city and backed away for a deal only to return when Leach Family Holdings put in an offer for $15.6 million. Cambio was back in the picture when he raised the ante to $17.1 million but never went through with his offer when the housing market took a spin.
Then, in 2008, the city administration opened talks with the SBA to resolve the claim of one of the largest creditors, Nancy Troy Lovett, while securing a $2.2 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant won by the state Congressional delegation before it expired. Working with Lovett’s attorney, the state and the SBA, the city reached an agreement to buy 41 acres consisting of the park’s shoreline for $4.4 million. The city put up $800,000 from an open space bond that was coupled with $1.4 million from the state to match a $2.2 million grant from NOAA.
Purchase of the remaining parkland became the rally cry of the Rocky Point Foundation, a non-profit formed by a small group in 2009. The Foundation lobbied to have acquisition of the park placed on the November 2010 ballot as part of an open space and parks $14.7 million bond issue. Of that amount, $10 million was earmarked for Rocky Point. The bond gained voter approval from all of the state’s cities and towns with the exception of Woonsocket.
But what should the park become?
Ideas range from bringing back the amusement park to building an aquarium and shellfish hatchery, to having a restaurant, playing fields, concert area, ferry dock, wind turbines, zip line or allowing it to revert to its natural state for walking trails, picnic areas and rock climbing.
The Rocky Point Foundation was awarded a legislative grant to conduct public meetings on development of the park. The Foundation plans to conduct meetings in different parts of the state after the acquisition of the park and to provide a report to the state.