By DANIEL KITTREDGE During last year's campaign for mayor, Ken Hopkins, then a member of the City Council, spoke often of his "vision" for Rolfe Square. Now, with Hopkins in the mayor's office, work to implement his revitalization plan for the area has
During last year’s campaign for mayor, Ken Hopkins, then a member of the City Council, spoke often of his “vision” for Rolfe Square.
Now, with Hopkins in the mayor’s office, work to implement his revitalization plan for the area has begun.
“The way I do things, I want it done yesterday, you know? But I’m finding out that it takes time to get everything through local government,” Hopkins said during an interview outside Coffee & Crumbs last week. “So one step at a time, but I can see what it’s going to look like, and I think people are going to be real excited about it.”
Passers-by and residents of the area have encountered new activity along Rolfe Square in recent weeks, part of what Hopkins says is the second phase of the revitalization work.
The first phase involved the removal and replacement of existing trees along the street that were diseased or affecting sidewalks. The current work includes installation of new “ornamental” lighting, sidewalk repair and a facelift for the signposts that line the historic street, the mayor said.
Crosswalks, too, are getting a new look. Hopkins said the bricks in the eight existing crosswalks – which sometimes come loose and pop up – are being replaced with asphalt. A machine the mayor likened to a “waffle iron,” along with a coat of paint, will then be used to replicate the texture and appearance of the bricks.
There are other components to the revitalization push. Hopkins said he is exploring the creation of murals on the sides of buildings along Rolfe Square, similar to artist Amy Bartlett Wright’s “Crane Flight” that now adorns one of the walls at nearby Crosstown Press. And the street is also due for repaving at some point in May, he said.
Hopkins said he views the physical improvements along Rolfe Square – which he described in a recent statement as having “been neglected for far too long” – as a key step in spurring new activity in the area. He hopes it becomes a “destination” for visitors, particularly as the weather warms and the tide continues to turn in the pandemic.
“People want to get out and start walking again … The timing is right for it,” he said.
Charlie Chin, a restaurateur and the owner of several properties on Rolfe Square, served as a member of the mayor’s transition team. He also spoke of the revitalization project as a catalyst for new activity.
“It’s going to cement this place,” he said. “We want some nightlife out here. We don’t want, 4 o’clock, everybody goes home. People live close by over here.”
Hopkins said at present, most of the commercial space along the street is occupied. There are new businesses, including the recently opened Centreville Bank branch. Last month, a license was approved for Alani’s Bistro, to be located in a portion of the former Nayco building.
One space in that building remains available, and Hopkins said there have been talks with a “real prominent restaurant” about the location. He declined to elaborate further, however.
Another “cornerstone,” Hopkins said, is the future of the Park Theatre. A sign in the doorway to the historic location, which was reopened more than a decade ago after a major renovation project, lists the property as up for public auction on April 29.
Hopkins last week said the theater’s owner, Piyush Patel, had pushed back the auction to that date at the city’s request. The mayor said he hopes to maintain Rolfe Square “as an art district, theater district,” and to that end, the city’s economic development office has been communicating with prospective buyers of the property.
“It’s got a banquet hall upstairs, it’s got a nightclub downstairs, the theater is brand new inside … It’s absolutely beautiful,” the mayor said.
In terms of financing the Rolfe Square work, city Finance Director Robert Strom on Tuesday said the total cost is roughly $400,000. He said that price tag is being covered through two existing sources, a neighborhood infrastructure bond and a highway bond. Each source will cover roughly half of the cost, he said.
“We do have monies available,” he said.
Hopkins said last week: “It has been budgeted, so it’s not like we’re spending extra money on it, doing all of this.”
During last week’s interview with Hopkins outside Coffee & Crumbs, his new director of economic development, Franklin Paulino, was walking up and down the street delivering letters to business owners.
The correspondence invited the members of the Rolfe Square business community to an upcoming meeting at Mesa Café, which Hopkins said will provide an opportunity for city officials to hear additional concerns, feedback and suggestions.
Hopkins said his “vision” for Rolfe Square – which he also credited to Paul McAuley, who formerly represented Ward 2 on the City Council – extends to other parts of the city as well.
Once the Rolfe Square work is complete, he said, the plan is to complete a similar project in Knightsville. He sees the possibility of closing a portion of Cranston Street on weekend nights to allow for expanded outdoor dining, “similar to what they do in East Greenwich and Atwells Avenue up on [Federal] Hill.”
Elsewhere, Hopkins is anxious for the start of work on Topgolf, which has been delayed during the pandemic with the state’s use of the former Citizens Bank building on Sockanosset Cross Road as a field hospital and mass vaccination site. Physical improvements, including painting, are ongoing at City Hall. In the wake of last year’s debate over the future of Mulligan’s Island, he said he continues to explore alternative sites in the city that could house a Costco. Perhaps looming largest are the major facilities projects Gladstone and Garden City elementary schools, which are set to begin this summer.
Despite all that’s going on, Hopkins said the Rolfe Square work is particularly meaningful for him.
“I’ve always loved this area, but it’s never had the love and care and vision to revitalize it,” he said, adding: “Like the old movie, if you build it, they’ll come. We’re building it in the hope it will attract businesses.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that an existing highway bond is being used to fund a portion of the Rolfe Square project.