Providence Mayor David Cicilline '83 appeared Monday at a Fox Point Neighborhood Association meeting and expressed his approval of the group's plan to make the former site of Shooters nightclub part of a public waterfront space. His appearance comes on the heels of last week's vote by the City Plan Commission to remove residential zoning recommendations from the site, eliminating the possibility of a large-scale residential development blocking public use of the site.
Cicilline said he thought the agenda to make the former nightclub into a public marina was "very exciting from the beginning." The challenge now, he said, is to ensure development occurs in an economically sustainable manner.
"You don't have to convince me of the concept. I think it's great," Cicilline said. "The only question is, how is it likely to unfold?"
Cicilline said he wanted an economic analysis done on the site to achieve this goal. But Daisy Schnepel, president of the association, said they had only managed to raise half of the $30,000 needed for the feasibility study. Cicilline confirmed with the group that the city would contribute financially to the study as well.
The mayor proposed looking into funds available from the federal stimulus bill, particularly Recovery and Build America Bonds, for financing any development.
Cicilline also said he would be willing to meet with association members and the state Department of Transportation, which currently owns the Shooters site, to discuss the issue further.
Rhode Island bought the site from its previous owner, Michael Kent. Cicilline said he doubted the state would create a public-private partnership to develop the site and will therefore likely sell it. The city of Providence cannot afford to buy the site, he said.
He added that Kent can exercise first refusal if the state seeks to sell the site but did not know if that was a probable situation. Board member Arria Bilodeau said Kent had expressed no interest in getting the site back the last time the two of them spoke.
Harrison Bilodeau, vice-chair of the Providence City Plan Commission, proposed asking the Department of Transportation to hold the site until development was ready to proceed. In the meantime, he said, the derelict former club needed maintenance and cleaning up.
"You're right, Mr. Mayor, the vision of the place is something worth waiting for," Harrison Bilodeau said. But he added that currently the site is "an eyesore."
Cicilline said it was the Department of Transportation's responsibility to maintain the site but agreed that beautifying it would be optimal. "If we make it secure and clean it up," then there would be a better chance of a public-private partnership for the land's development, he said.
Bryan Principe of the City Plan Commission said he wanted to see the land cleaned up so that, in the event that Newport becomes the location for the America's Cup, Providence could serve as a destination for both sailors and tourists. If the cities of Providence and Newport come together and pitch a "dual plan," he said, the Cup would bring in tourists who might not otherwise visit Providence and would create an "economic boon" for the city.
"The developers aren't sniffing around right now," Principe said. "Let's take advantage of that."
Cicilline said he has reached out to Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and is in talks with her to explore Providence's role if the America's Cup comes to Rhode Island.
Making the possible waterfront a part of the pitch is a good idea, he said, though he warned against tying the fate of one project too strongly to that of the other.
In addition to Cicilline's discussion of the Shooters property, the association also addressed their petition on their new Web site — www.makeshooterspublic.com — and their upcoming cleanup of the Seekonk shoreline, scheduled for Apr. 17.