The Block Island Times

Confab spurs ideas to improve tourism services

Town Council meets with Chamber and Tourism Council
By Stephanie Turaj | Oct 20, 2013

Three island groups have begun to brainstorm to find solutions to a number of tourism-related problems facing Block Island.

At a Tuesday, Oct. 15, meeting between the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, the Block Island Tourism Council and the Town Council, discussion centered primarily on inadequate tourism services, such as poor public bathroom and trash upkeep downtown. The result was a positive, productive discussion that generated several proposed solutions.

“We need to hire individuals to manage the trash cans and keep bathrooms clean,” said Town Councilor Norris Pike. “If we do that for next season, then I think we’ve done an awful lot.”

The three groups agreed that a part-time attendant should be hired to monitor public bathrooms located next to the Chamber office in Old Harbor. They also suggested installing a foot wash in this area, so tourists could rinse sand off their feet instead of clogging up sinks. In addition, there was agreement that more trash cans are needed in the downtown area, and that they need to be cleaned more often.

Survey says: address tourism issues

The meeting was convened after both the Tourism Council and Chamber expressed dissatisfaction with these issues at several recent meetings. A Chamber of Commerce survey sent to business owners last month revealed that these tourism-related services are among the top concerns facing island businesses.

“I don’t think people take into consideration how much tourism brings to the island — many year-round jobs are driven by the amount of people here seasonally,” said Chamber President Mary Lawless. “We do need to think about allocating more to downtown to keep it good for everyone.”

Tourism Council President Zena Clark called for the town to hire a bathroom attendant after complaints that the bathrooms located by the Chamber of Commerce are left in a filthy state throughout busy summer days and weekends. Currently, the bathrooms are generally cleaned at night, and sometimes midday during the height of the season, according to Town Manager Nancy Dodge.

Dodge also noted that the town had in the past looked for someone to fill a bathroom attendant position — to monitor them fulltime — but at the time, no one was interested in the job. “There are some jobs people just won’t do,” she said, adding that it’s possible to look again.

“I agree that it’s [the bathroom issue] in need of attention,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett. “The trouble is finding the budget and the person.”

Along with generally insufficient bathroom upkeep, Chamber and Tourism Council members said that tourists often clog the sinks by washing their feet in them. As a solution, the Chamber and Tourism Council proposed a foot wash be installed near the Chamber office.

Also discussed were overflowing and smelly trash cans downtown. Tourism Council member John Cullen explained that the trash removal contract does not include washing the cans throughout the summer. “As the summer progresses, they really smell,” he said.

Town Councilor Chris Warfel suggested buying more cans, and periodically trading out dirty ones for washing.

Chamber member Bill Penn suggested purchasing solar-powered trash compactors. While the city of Newport, R.I. uses these bins, Councilor Sean McGarry noted that they do not recycle.

Other issues discussed were cigarette butts littering the ground downtown, stores displaying signs without Historic District Commission permission, beach pavilion upgrades, crowded roads and jaywalkers. Ideas were proposed to solve each of these issues.

There was a suggestion that local shopkeepers and the town employees be more rigorous about sweeping up cigarette butts.

As for illegally displayed signs, Dodge suggested fining the businesses in Warden’s Court instead of the current enforcement process that requires multiple notification letters before a fine.

Also, some suggested keeping the town beach pavilion open later into the September season instead of closing after Labor Day. Dodge noted that planned upgrades for the pavilion would separate the bathroom and shower access from the rest of the pavilion. She said that these upgrades are contingent upon receiving grant money, and probably would not be performed until the fall of 2015.

As for crowded roads, Tourism Council and Chamber members suggested using a police officer, or someone else, to direct traffic during busy times when ferries are unloading in Old Harbor. Also discussed was installing signs that would direct tourists which way to go (i.e., the way to the town beach).

Finally, the three groups also talked about ways to create a more sustainable year-round economy on Block Island, particularly in the “shoulder seasons” of the spring and fall. Discussion included more triathlon and recreation events and how to help shopkeepers stay open later in the season.

“We just get so mired in what hasn’t been done. It just feels like it’s a really bad attitude, we have a tendency to see what’s wrong, but we have to think more in terms of what’s right,” said Tourism Council member Martha Ball.

Lawless added: “People do appreciate how beautiful the island is. Once you get out of town, our road crews do a great job of picking up litter. I think there’s a lot to be proud of — but we should work on downtown.”

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