Visions of New Green Space Dance On Defiled Public Street
September 9, 2021
PROVIDENCE — Between the abandoned pier, growing salt pile, graffitied blocks and a trash-strewn gravel path, Jed Thorp sees potential.
In July, the Coastal Resources Management Council reaffirmed the eastern end of Public Street as a public right of way after decades of encroachment by private landholders. Now, Thorp, advocacy coordinator for Save The Bay, is working out how to make the access point — one of only three in the Washington Park and South Providence neighborhoods — more inviting.
“This is not Misquamicut Beach at the end of Public Street. It’s somewhat limited in terms of what it is today,” Thorpe said during a Sept. 8 presentation to the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. “But that said … I like just sitting down there on the rocks, looking at the water, watching the osprey come down and nest there. If all you do is walk down there and gaze at the water, it has value for that.”
In Thorp’s ideal scenario, a portion of the neighboring industrial lots, which include a tire barn, a dumpster storage area and a road salt purveyor, would be cleaned up and transitioned to a waterfront green space accessible by public transit along Allens Avenue.
“If we could cobble together and find the money, which is not an easy task, there’s some options there,” he said.
Currently, the Eastern Salt Co. subleases neighboring 170 Allens Ave. from National Grid, using it to house a mountain of rock salt nearly as tall as the 4-story building next door. But, according to Thorp, the property, which attaches to the disused pier, is soon to change hands with National Grid’s sell-off of the Narragansett Electric Co. to Pennsylvania-based PPL Corp.
Save The Bay and the attorney general’s office have been in contact with National Grid to make the community’s interest in the property known, according to Thorp. Acquiring the property would open up more park space, he said, but could also be an opportunity to deindustrialize one lot in an area that has long sought to evict harmful industry.
“If somebody else buys it you don’t know what’s going to go in there, right?” he said. “It could be another giant scrap pile or some other kind of industrial use.”
“We need to be two steps ahead of everybody in terms of keeping what is ours and making it cleaner,” Linda Perri, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association, said.
The National Grid property, which constitutes two parcels, is valued at around $2 million. Save The Bay does not currently have the funding in place to buy any of the surrounding properties outright, Thorp said. If a sale is possible, it will be a challenge to “cobble together” the money, he said.
“Right now, we’re trying to just generate this drumbeat of interest in it … so perhaps they don’t sell it to somebody else,” Thorp said.
A smaller lot at 70 Public St. — currently used for dumpster storage, according to Thorp — is valued at nearly $400,000. But according to Perri, making a deal with owner Airway Leasing LLC could prove more challenging.
If no land acquisition is possible, Thorp said a backup plan might be to negotiate with National Grid, and later PPL, to gain public access to the undeveloped waterfront and unused pier.
“You could do a lot with just this waterfront portion down here,” he said, suggesting benches and a place to walk. “But again, I sort of see that as like the fallback option.”
Two other waterfront access points mark the 2.5-mile stretch of coast along South Providence and Washington Park, which, according to Thorp, has some of the worst coastal access per capita in the state.
A fishing spot and public pier can be accessed behind the Save The Bay Center at the southern end of Fields Point, but the site is nearly a mile from bus stops on Narragansett Boulevard and is difficult to access without a car.
Collier Point Park, a small park with a boat launch, sits just south of Interstate 195 at the northern end of South Providence’s waterfront. But, according to Thorp, the park is also difficult to get to by public transit and is “not real welcoming from the street side.”