By DANIEL KITTREDGE Next year, Pawtuxet Village will play host to the 250th anniversary celebration of Gaspee Days. Thousands of visitors will descend on Cranston and Warwick for a range of festivities as the neighboring communities mark a milestone in
Next year, Pawtuxet Village will play host to the 250th anniversary celebration of Gaspee Days.
Thousands of visitors will descend on Cranston and Warwick for a range of festivities as the neighboring communities mark a milestone in local – and, indeed, American – history, commemorating what has been called the nation’s “first blow for freedom” in 1772.
Mayor Ken Hopkins says recent improvements on Broad Street in the Cranston section of the village are meant, in part, to prepare for that impending celebration and its associated festivities.
But he frames the Pawtuxet work, along with a similar, nearly complete project on Rolfe Square in the city’s Auburn section and a larger, upcoming effort in Knightsville, as being part of a larger effort to burnish Cranston’s reputation as a destination.
“I don’t want to throw Providence under the bus, but I think they’re hurting, and people are looking for places to go out. Knightsville’s got some of the best Italian restaurants in the state … I think people will come to this village, they’ll go to Rolfe Square, they’ll go to Knightsville to dine,” Hopkins said during a wide-ranging interview recently at Bagel Express.
He added: “I love doing the neighborhood projects. Economic revival isn’t just big business … This [village] has been steadily becoming a hotspot.”
The Pawtuxet Village work has involved many of the same facets as the Rolfe Square project. Broad Street has been repaved, sidewalks have been cleaned, and handicap accessible sidewalk cutouts have been repaired. New crosswalks have been installed using a stamped asphalt process. Lanterns that had deteriorated over time are being refurbished and LED bulbs are being installed.
The Pawtuxet Village project involved “minimal” tree work compared with Rolfe Square, the mayor said, because the existing trees in Pawtuxet were in better condition.
“We’re at the final stages,” Hopkins said of the work, which he estimated to have a total cost of roughly $200,000.
Hopkins credited several community leaders and organizations for their assistance with the project, including Roy Evans, a financial adviser with an office in the village who is also a member of the Cranston Rotary Club.
“He first came to me with a lot of the ideas,” Hopkins said.
The mayor also recognized the Pawtuxet Village Association and Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas, saying: “It didn’t matter what party we were with. We collaborated.”
Hopkins also reiterated his friendly challenge to Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi to undertake a similar improvement project on the Warwick side of the village ahead of the Gaspee Days 250th celebration.
“I know he will,” he said.
Hopkins said the work in Pawtuxet Village and Rolfe Square has been funded through existing capital improvement money. He put the total cost of the Rolfe Square project at “somewhere in the $400,000 range.”
In terms of Rolfe Square, Hopkins said the next steps largely center around new business plans on the busy commercial stretch.
The Park Theatre, which Ed Brady and Jeff Quinlan have an agreement to purchase for use as a new entertainment and dining venue, is envisioned as the “cornerstone of Rolfe Square,” the mayor said. Plans are in place for a microbrewery to open in the former Nayco building, which would fill out all of the commercial space on the street.
Next up on Hopkins’s agenda for neighborhood revitalization is Knightsville, which will be the most intensive of the three projects.
“That’s going to be our biggest project,” he said.
Plans for the work have been designed based on images of Cranston’s sister city of Itri, Italy, the ancestral home of many local families and the namesake of Knightsville’s famed square.
The same stamped asphalt process from the other projects will be utilized, he said, but this time, the process will replicate the look of cobblestone rather than brick. There will be brick incorporated in other portions of the project, and lanterns will mimic those in the Italian sister community.
The most significant aspect of the Knightsville work will be the creation of a new pocket park, a project first proposed by City Council President Chris Paplauskas and endorsed through a City Council resolution in 2019.
Hopkins said the work will involve clearing the existing park, including the gazebo. Plans call for a new gazebo to be erected, along with a pergola, bocci court, fountain and benches.
“That’ll be the entrance into this new center,” the mayor said.
While the work will eliminate some existing parking space often utilized by the St. Mary’s Feast Society, Hopkins said a location for a new parking lot has been identified. Also planned are “bump-outs” along a similarly repaved and reworked Cranston Street to allow for additional outdoor dining space at local eateries.
In all, Hopkins said, the Knightsville work is anticipated to cost roughly $2 million. That figure includes a $500,000 federal grant, secured with assistance from U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, that will go toward the pocket park.
“The vision is there. It’s just getting to get it done … Hopefully within my first two years, we’ll have the three neighborhoods complete,” Hopkins said.
He added: “I always liked Buddy Cianci’s style of community development, fixing the cities up. Not that I’m like Buddy at all. I like doing those projects.”
Hopkins discussed a host of other issues during the recent interview. Here are a few of the highlights.
STATUS OF COSTCO: Hopkins said his administration remains in contact with Costco regarding alternative locations within Cranston for the wholesale club. He specifically cited sites off Kenney Drive, Route 10 and Sockanosset Cross Road.
“Costco is definitely on my agenda,” he said.
Has Costco been receptive to the city’s continued outreach?
“Very much so,” he said. “Right now, they’re looking at three or four different possible sites. But they like Cranston. We’ll see where that goes.”
The Costco debate dates back to 2020, when Massachusetts-based Coastal Properties proposed a new development, Cranston Crossing, for the land currently occupied by Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment off New London Avenue. The development as proposed would have been anchored by a Costco, with some additional commercial elements.
The project, which has since stalled, faced opposition from Hopkins, a group of neighbors and others in the community. Coastal Partners has recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Hopkins and his predecessor in the mayor’s office, Allan Fung, worked to thwart the Mulligan’s development plans and instead steer Costco to a nearby site owned by Carpionato Group. The suit, initially filed in Superior Court, has been moved to federal court, and Robert Clark Corrente, a former U.S. attorney, is representing the plaintiff in the case.
During the recent interview, Hopkins defended his approach to the Mulligan’s development and said he is not concerned about the legal case.
“I think it’s a waste of time on [Coastal Partners managing partner Michael DiGuiseppe’s] part, because from day one, I’ve spoke out against the development of Mulligan’s other than open space [or] recreation,” he said. “I’ve always wanted that … I still want that open space recreation. I think a city this size needs that.”
He added: “The lawsuit, I’m not worried about … They tried to say that I colluded with Allan, and that’s not the case. It’s a federal case, and they’ve got a heavy lawyer to fight it. But all my lawyers tell me they don’t see it going anywhere.”
BUDLONG POOL’S FUTURE: The Budlong Pool was closed again this summer in a move the Hopkins administration said stemmed from the uncertainty surrounding pandemic-related restrictions. Difficulty in securing the needed number of staffers for the pool was also cited at one point.
Now, Hopkins said he believes the city needs to have a broader discussion about the future of the historic recreational facility on Aqueduct Road.
“I really want to have some public meetings on it,” he said, to “get a feel for what the people want to do.”
Hopkins said the cost of operating the pool for the roughly six-week summer season is approximately $600,000 annually. Given that the most recent available figures show that up to 50 percent of the facility’s users come from outside Cranston, he suggested an alternative use for the site – a recreation center, perhaps – may be a preferable way to go.
“There’s some people that still want it. Other people feel that it’s a noose around our neck,” he said, later adding: “That could be a great spot for a rec center, you know? We get 12 months of use out of it rather than six weeks, at half the cost. So those are all things that we’re looking at. I think the trend right now is splash pads. You don’t need lifeguards. You can have supervisors. You can turn them on and off and control when they’re being used. That seems to be the safer way to go.”
Uncertainty surrounding the pool’s condition is also a factor, Hopkins said: “It’s been two years since the pool’s been open, so we don’t know what the cost of that’s going to be.”
Hopkins noted that the city has an agreement with the YMCA to utilize its pool, and that the community can also access the pool at Park View Middle School. Those alternatives, combined with “splash pads” that are planned at the new Gladstone and Garden City elementary schools, may be able to replaced what Budlong Pool currently offers, he suggested.
AMAZON IN CRANSTON? Hopkins, who described himself as a close friend of Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, said he is hopeful that the recent approval for a massive Amazon fulfillment center in Johnston may have benefits for Cranston.
“I’d like to see even a subsidiary of Amazon as a potential draw to Cranston,” he said. “You need some of those bigger businesses to help the smaller businesses survive.”
WEST TRACK: Hopkins said security improvements at the new Cranston High School West athletic complex and walking track – including fencing and a camera for police to monitor the facility – are nearing completion. Also close is the launch of a new fob access system for residents seeking to utilize the walking track.
“We’ll have control over the facility,” he said. “It’s not to keep people out. We want people to use it. But what we don’t want is outsiders coming in, from Providence or Hendricken or La Salle, and having a full-fledged practice on a $2 million facility that we invested in.”
Hopkins said roughly 150 fobs had been made as of last week. More information on how residents can obtain them is forthcoming.
POLITICAL FUTURE: Hopkins said while some people have urged him to consider a run for the governor’s office in 2022, he has rejected that idea.
“No. I haven’t gotten involved in that race,” he said when asked if he would consider a bid. “We’ll let the Democrats come up with their candidate. Hopefully, the Republicans will have a candidate. I’ve been asked a few times of my interest in it. Right now, my focus is the city of Cranston.”
He added: “I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing. I love the team that I have put together … My inner circle is very strong with experience. I think we’ve got Cranston heading in a new direction, but continuing a lot of the stuff that Allan did.”