CHARLESTOWN — Concerts, an artists’ co-op, and even a film festival could be in Charlestown’s immediate future, and Economic Improvement Commission Chairman Frank Glista says he can’t wait to welcome all three.
Glista, a building contractor who describes himself as semi-retired, was born in Charlestown and still lives there. His grandfather built the town’s first motel in 1949, before Route 1 was built. He talks about how the town has changed, from a rural, blue collar town to a community that now has a sizable population of well-heeled seasonal residents.
“They have a lot of influence on some of the people that are elected, and I think that’s unfortunate. The town needs to grow,” he said.
In an effort to come up with a consensus on a long term vision for one of the town’s main assets, Ninigret Park, the Town Council has allocated $15,000 to the Parks and Recreation Commission to explore possible uses of the property. Council President Thomas Gentz said he was expecting a final report early next year.
“They’re in the process of doing that, and I’ll look forward to that report when it comes to the council,” he said. “We need to listen very carefully to what the residents of the town have to say when that report comes back and take our lead from the people in town.”
In addition to organizing a series of forums for small businesses, the most recent of which took place on Oct. 17, Glista hopes to attract large musical events to the park — much bigger than the town’s successful Rhythm and Roots festival.
At the Oct. 7 Town Council meeting, over the objections of several neighboring landowners, veteran Rhode Island concert promoter Frank J. Russo received initial approval to see whether any major recording artists would be interested in performing at Ninigret Park next summer.
Russo said if he could attract a big name act to Ninigret, he envisioned a kind of music festival featuring several acts over a single day or weekend, attracting up to 15,000 people. He also asked the council to approve 2,000 camping spaces. The council reduced that number to 1,500 before they voted on the proposal.
“We’re very hopeful that he’ll come back to the town with an artist that wants to perform here,” Glista said. “If he does, then the council and the police department and everybody can work out the logistical issues that are concerned and we can move on. And if it doesn’t work for the town, next year, we can just pass on it.”
Another event that Glista would like to see at Ninigret Park is a film festival. He has met several times with Anne Mulhall, a Charlestown resident and the owner of LDI Casting, which has cast actors in many feature films and television series. Mulhall said the festival, which she hopes to bring to the park as early as next summer, would be an outdoor event with a very casual atmosphere.
“People come in their shorts, they bring their own food and they have a picnic and watch a movie — similar to Rhythm and Roots only with movies. Just very casual, nothing fancy or fussy about it,” she said.
Mulhall said she would start small the first year, and if it’s successful, she would like to expand the event.
“My dream is to have four or five tents on that big piece of land, and each tent is geared toward a certain genre,” she said. “It’s something a little different, it’s something they’re not currently offering. They do offer movie nights, but this is a little bit more formal, while being casual at the same time. It could be a little bit more on the cultural side if we wanted it to be.”
Glista said, “Anything that happens at Ninigret Park we feel is a benefit to our business community. The EIC has always felt that Ninigret Park is the future economic engine that will drive our town.”
The commission is also focusing its attention on the Cross’ Mills district, where it hopes to convert the old firehouse into an artists’ co-op, and land there into a village-green type of park.
Glista, who has been working since 2006 to bring the concept to fruition, said it would help attract tourists to the area in the off season. “What can we bring to our town to keep the tourists here? Tourism is huge in Charlestown. It always has been,” he said.
Gentz, who with the rest of the council has sought to maintain a balance between encouraging growth and preserving Charlestown’s rural flavor, said the council could consider all proposals but approve only those that would be in the best interest of the town.
“We’re going to read each proposal as it comes forth,” he said.
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