A look to history and the record of Charlestown Residents United (CRU) shows a concert venue that could accommodate up to 12,000 people and provide approximately 3,500 parking spaces in the park is their vision for commercializing Ninigret Park.
In 1979, a federal judge awarded a portion of the Naval base to the federal government for a wildlife refuge and then the remainder to the town of Charlestown for general open-space purposes. The judge stated that the use of the 237 acres was not to be inconsistent with the use of the other 367 acres. This decision and the resulting victory on appeal was the death knell for the proposed nuclear plant and is a decision that has been honored over time by Charlestown officials.
In 1994, planning for the future of Ninigret Park was in full swing. An article in the Westerly Sun reported, “a performance area could be contained in a small area to preclude large concerts and huge crowds from coming to the park.”
In 2007, the Town Council adopted the 2008 Master Plan, which contained a reasonably sized amphitheater sunk 15 feet below grade.
By 2013, it was determined that moving roads would be extremely expensive, and there were problems with constructing such a venue. An RFP was put out for “assistance in reviewing the existing Master Plan.” This review was to consider “input from the town, including public meetings and survey results.”
On April 24, 2014, Michael Moonan of Weston and Sampson presented the “2014 Update.” There had been no public input and no public meetings; a previous 10-year-old survey was said to be valid.
Mr. Moonan explained extensive changes to the 2008 Master Plan. He stated that “potentially 12,000 attendees could be accommodated” and “approximately three thousand five hundred (3,500) spaces” would be available. It would be a revenue-generator.
Timothy Quillen (now president of CRU), Jodi Frank (now a candidate for Town Council), Cheryl Dowdell, and others voted to adopt the 2014 Update. Since 2014, they and others in CRU’s orbit have advocated for adoption of the plan by the Town Council. However, no one on the Town Council has been interested in sponsoring the update, and it has not been adopted.
The size of the venue contemplated in the 2014 update is huge — larger than the area in Newport’s Fort Adams devoted to the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk festivals, which holds 10,000 people. The Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass., held 12,000 when it opened in 1968. If a venue of this size were to be built, Charlestown would lose control of the performances coming to the park, and the face of our small rural community would change forever. In addition, the mission of one of Charlestown’s important recreational assets, the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, would be endangered because large, frequent concerts would interfere with bird migrations and affect local wildlife.
There should be a new Ninigret Park Master Plan. More important, CRU should stop doing one thing and saying another.
Bonnie Van Slyke
The writer is a member of the Charlestown Town Council.