Condition of beach pavilion troubles Tourism Council
Members of the Block Island Tourism Council once again expressed their frustration over delays in opening the Beach Pavilion and sought a path to encourage the town to make opening the facility a priority. Executive Director Jessica Willi told the board she had received a note from Town Manager Nancy Dodge who indicated that contractors were working on the pavilion and anticipated an opening in two weeks.
Though Willi was hesitant to confirm that projection or assign a date to it, when reached by phone Dodge said she was hopeful the facility would be available for Race Week (beginning June 23 through June 28). Council members said that nearly eight months after Hurricane Sandy had severely damaged the island beach facility, renovations had not been completed.
Dodge said at a Town Council meeting on Wednesday, June 5: “We’re going to have a coastal storm this weekend, so the longer we can delay the opening until we’re in good shape from a liability standpoint, is the way I’m operating. I think we can give it another full week and hopefully by next weekend we’ll be able to be open to a certain extent.”
With the beach pavilion unavailable for Memorial Day weekend, Vice President John Cullen echoed the community’s disappointment about the pace of repairs on a facility so critical to tourism on the island. Member Steve Filippi asked, “What’s the problem? We have the money. What is the mobilization? Why can’t we get it done?”
Cullen called the temporary outside bathroom units unsteady. He described them as having “doors flapping open and toilet paper unraveling in the wind.” Mary Lawless, President of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “It’s just embarrassing. People come out here for our beaches and they should at least set up some nice signage, something gracious or humorous, explaining the reasons for the delay in a few words,” she said. President Zena Clarke thought a banner or two might help.
Chamber Executive Director Kathy Szabo was skeptical that the work on the facility could be done within two weeks, since to her knowledge there was “no plumbing, no propane and no power” working at the time the tourism council met (the morning of June 4).
Dodge said at the June 5 council meeting that the “plumbing is done and most of the electrical is done. The rainwater system is cleaned out, the septic system is cleaned out, and now it’s the railings, the stairs and a lot of the construction work.”
Also, Lawless explained that, for boaters, the pavilion had always served “as their bathrooms and showers.” One suggestion was to prevail upon businesses to provide restrooms for boaters on a temporary basis.
Steve Fillipi raised the question of whether or not the tourism council should take the issue to the Block Island Town Council, a suggestion with which member Shirley Kessler agreed. “We need to take action and go to the town council to help them understand just how important this is — to islanders and visitors — and that it’s not just a simple issue; this is a significant priority,” Kessler said.
After considerable discussion, Tourism Executive Director Jess Willi was asked to ask Town Manager Nancy Dodge for appropriate signage at the pavilion and to write a letter to the town council expressing the concerns of the tourism council.
“At the very least, we need signage to explain to people, to let them know there’s a plan in action. Perhaps an artist can do them [the signs],” said Zena Clark.
Fourth of July update
Szabo suggested that in last year’s attempt to deal with the issue of huge numbers of revelers descending on the beach for Independence Day, there had been too much negative publicity — resulting in families’ decisions not to come to the island and in a serious decline in sales for a number of businesses.
“We should put a positive spin on [preparations] because there was a significant loss. We scared off people that we want to come.” Szabo added, “Last year was the worst year according to the loss of revenue on that day.”
Cullen thought it was important to convey the message “that this isn’t the place for people who aren’t going to behave.” Once the word got out that the town was prepared to deal with them, he hoped those intending to do extensive partying on the island beaches would be discouraged from doing so.
Logan Mott Chase said, as a realtor, she had heard that many cottagers were pleased with the steps taken to protect the island and families.
Szabo said she planned to invited Chief Vincent Carlone to the Chamber’s next meeting to continue the discussion.
Willi reported that the search for glass floats hidden around the island — now in its second season — had continued to be a successful project on island. Visitors have reported coming out specifically to hunt for floats only to find themselves drawn into hiking, discovering views, shops and restaurants. She pointed out that Eben Horton, the glass-blower who created the floats and conceived the project, would come to the island several times later this summer to hide more floats around the island.
Szabo said the Taste of Block Island event held last weekend was very successful. “The weather was nice, even if there were not as many people,” Szabo said. Willi said the program had received a lot of good press coverage, but she felt the committee needed to “put up more visuals on Facebook” and other online social outlets.
“While it may have seemed slow, there were a number of people who came out specifically for the event,” Lawless said.
Willi said she had been engaged in a project with a hospitality representative in Newport to orchestrate a meeting to be held on island for people in the industry, such as hotel directors of sales, concierges and others who might suggest destinations for their guests. Anticipating that as many as 50 people might attend, she said they would come over on the high-speed ferry from Newport for a brief visit on island.
Willi is reaching out to local businesses to see “who might be available to handle a group of this size.” After discussing some possibilities, she said she was “thinking about June 27,” but that plans still needed to be firmed up.
Willi announced that the Fourth of July parade will start at Legion Park at 11 a.m. The movies and characters created by the Walt Disney Studio is going to be the theme.
The annual meeting is set for June 18 at The Channel Marker, a new restaurant on island (where Sharky’s used to be). The meeting is at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m. The group scheduled its next two meetings for July 10 and Aug. 14, both Wednesdays, at 9 a.m. at Town Hall.
— Reporter Stephanie Turaj contributed to this article.