By JOHN HOWELL In a matter of hours after learning of possible grants from the office of Congressman James Langevin, Mayor Frank Picozzi's administration drafted a $775,000 grant application supported by letters from 19 organizations and individuals to
In a matter of hours after learning of possible grants from the office of Congressman James Langevin, Mayor Frank Picozzi’s administration drafted a $775,000 grant application supported by letters from 19 organizations and individuals to restore the historic Conimicut Lighthouse and build an interpretative kiosk at Conimicut Point Park.
While it was a scramble to meet the deadline for a federal Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grant, there was no lack of enthusiasm to restore the light that the Coast Guard turned over to the city 17 years ago.
Immediately after learning from Langevin’s office that the congressman was looking for possible projects that would be earmarked in the federal budget, Picozzi rallied his staff and the lighthouse emerged as a favorite. From there, Lucas Murray in the Planning Department submitted an application to meet the deadline while calling on staff to come up with supporting information.
A spokesman for Langevin said Wednesday that the congressman would make public those projects he has selected for inclusion in the budget within the next couple of weeks and that that information would be posted on the website.
The light has long been identified as needing restoration, but as an unlikely candidate for funding from local sources. In addition, because it is a state asset, the city administration is hopeful it will have greater appeal than a local project.
A Conimicut light has been a Rhode Island fixture for 153 years.
The current light was built in 1883, replacing a granite beacon constructed in 1868. It was automated in 1963 and continues to be an important navigational aid despite the advent of GPS and cell phones that can tell you precisely where you are, within a few feet.
It’s more than that.
One of two Warwick lights – the second is land-based Warwick Neck Light – Conimicut is a Warwick icon frequently photographed, a sentinel to Narragansett Bay and a favorite fishing spot for tautog. In the last decade, the future of the lighthouse, or rather the lack of action over its future, has also made it a political sore point.
Politics aside, Mayor Picozzi said Tuesday the first thing the city needs to do is “to fix it.” When that is accomplished, he said the city can explore how it could be used in addition to fulfilling its navigational role.
On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the grant application.
City ownership of the light 17 years ago sparked lively debate as a destination for educational tours. A committee chaired by then Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon was tasked with overseeing proposals as well as renovating the structure. The city was counting on a $560,000 federal transportation grant to do the work and make the lighthouse accessible to the public. One suggestion was to build a pier connecting the light to the point, a distance of about a half-mile.
Several years after the grant failed to materialize and plans for the lighthouse fell from public view, concerned that the light could revert to the National Park Service and they, in turn, would auction it off, former Mayor Scott Avedisian solicited proposals to restore the light. After failing to generate interest from contractors, Avedisian met Nick Korstad in 2015. Korstad, who transformed the Borden Flats Lighthouse offshore from Fall River into a bed and breakfast, was interested in restoring Conimicut Light for a similar use.
Korstad’s proposal was met with skepticism from some members of the City Council. Korstad submitted a bid to lease the light. However, after Solomon, who was then City Council president, reasoned he could get a better deal, Avedisian dropped the plan.
Efforts to restore the light faded until now.
Over two weeks, the city received letters in support of the application from Gov. McKee, Speaker Shekarchi, Mayor Picozzi, the Central RI Chamber of Commerce, Conimicut Village Association, Edgewood Yacht Club, Warwick Historic District Commission, Facente/Community Development, Providence/Warwick CVB, RI Saltwater Anglers Association, Rocky Point Foundation, Save The Bay, Rep. Vella-Wilkinson, Warwick Historical Society, Warwick Harbormaster, Warwick City Council, Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission, Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.
Stephen J. Medeiros, president of the RI Saltwater Anglers: “The Conimicut Lighthouse stands at the entrance to the Providence River, and is valued by thousands of recreational anglers who navigate by its visible structure during the day, and it's light by night. The lighthouse is also a well-known destination for recreational anglers because it attracts fish every spring, summer and fall. In addition, many recreational anglers use the Conimicut Point Park as access to the ‘Point’ to fish from shore, and many bring their families who enjoy the park at the same time.”
Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay: “Save The Bay sees great potential for synergy between the Conimicut Shoals Lighthouse Restoration and Community Education Project and our on-the-water education programs. Every year we conduct our Rhode Island Lighthouse Tours. They are popular because they provide opportunities for up-close viewing of lighthouses, along with historical and up-to-date information on every lighthouse in the Bay. The City’s initiative would greatly enhance the experience for our customers at Conimicut Lighthouse. Restoring Conimicut Lighthouse and providing accessible education opportunities for the public is, simply, a great thing to do. It will enhance people’s sense of place and pride in Rhode Island, while encouraging stewardship of the Narragansett Bay and all of its spectacular resources, including its lighthouses.”
Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of the Providence/Warwick Visitors and Convention Bureau: “The restoration component means the lighthouse will continue to attract visitors and attention from travel publications while the education component will help offer a more complete experience to residents and visitors alike as they learn about this historic landmark and surrounding coastal area from a single accessible location.”
Lauren Slocum, president and CEO of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce: “Further, restoration of the lighthouse, which is often featured in local and statewide marketing efforts as a symbol of the Ocean State, will help support and reinvigorate the statewide and local tourism industry, which, as you know, has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the installation of the interpretive kiosk will also draw more visitors to Conimicut Point Park, which will directly benefit local service businesses and restaurants.”
Ken Gilbert, commodore, Edgewood Yacht Club: “We are also aware, as a community that is lucky to have access to boats, that some Rhode Islanders cannot appreciate Conimicut Lighthouse from the water as we can. One aspect of the City’s application for funding that we particularly endorse is the visitor kiosk in Conimicut Point Park. This amenity will allow those without boat access to learn about the lighthouse in a free public setting, with a clear view of the treasured lighthouse.”
George Shuster of the Rocky Point Foundation: “Over that long, shared history, Conimicut Lighthouse and Rocky Point Park have seen each other through a number of ups and downs. They have shared damage from hurricanes, and they have viewed each other’s periods of restoration and decline. Sadly, while Rocky Point Park has recently enjoyed a renaissance as a new state and city park with walking paths and a new fishing pier opened in 2020, Conimicut Lighthouse in recent years has been neglected. But as we have seen with Rocky Point Park, Conimicut Lighthouse has an enormous level of interest and support from the many people who see it from the land and from the water. Like Rocky Point Park, Conimicut Lighthouse is a source of inspiration and pride for Warwick and all of Rhode Island. And like Rocky Point Park, which has been the recipient of significant federal, state, and city financial grants in its recent history, Conimicut Lighthouse has the opportunity, through restoration and an enhanced education program, to use public funding to increase its value to all those who live in and visit Rhode Island.”
Gov. Dan McKee: “Restoration of this landmark is critical to ensuring that it remains operational for the benefit and safety of all concerned … this venture is also important to our efforts in preserving this noteworthy piece of Rhode Island’s rich maritime history for generations to come.”
Mayor Frank Picozzi: “I’m lucky to have called Warwick home for more than 50 years and to have raised my children here, and I’m taking delight in watching the third generation of my family grow and flourish. I want the ensuing generations to grow up with an understanding and knowledge of our City’s rich, vibrant and varied history and places, people and events that have made it so special and unique.”
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi: Referencing the kiosk proposed for Conimicut Point Park, “Residents and visitors will have an equitable, safe and accessible means to learn about the significance of the lighthouse without having to physically enter the structure…This project is culturally, historically and economically important to our community and the state.”