CENTRAL FALLS — If you haven’t noticed yet, the Central Falls Landing has a new, rather extravagant addition, and – according to Mayor James Diossa and Blackstone Valley Tourism Council President/CEO Bob Billington – it’s reminiscent of the iconic Hollywood sign on the hill outside that southern California city.
The sign – 50 feet long and made up of 50-inch letters spelling out CENTRAL FALLS – is located near the corner of Broad Street and Madeira Avenue, and it was unveiled on Halloween to several public officials, among them Diossa, Mayor-Elect Maria Rivera, Lt. Governor Daniel McKee, Rep. David Cicilline, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Billington.
Also on hand were Louis Yip and Sunny Eng of the real estate development Tai-O Associates, which is developing the landing, and John McCauley of Green Energy Consumers, which helped pay for the sign.
The landing, which sits on the banks of the Blackstone River, is being redeveloped for use as a cultural, recreational and economic hub. It’s expected that the entire project will be completed early next year. It also happens to be the site of the former American Supply Co., which operated a steam-powered manufacturing plant that was later adapted for reuse as a braided rug factory until the early 1990s.
While the industrial activity at the site and countless others in Central Falls and throughout the Valley fueled the local and regional economies for decades, its ultimate decline left behind environmental contaminants and underutilized buildings.
“When I first saw it, it was beautiful. I loved it because it was a first in our state,” Billington said. “This has been the mayor’s project for several years now. We had been working on the early stages of the sign for a while now, trying to figure out where it would go, how big the letters should be, would it be lit, all of those things, so I knew it was coming.
“I’m just really pleased because we love the mayor’s work and we love the city,” he added. “It was a spectacular addition; we can now say, ‘Here’s our name up in lights!’”
He also indicated that city officials are in the midst of creating a photo contest, asking folks to take pictures of themselves, family members or friends, and that the most ingenious, creative photograph would win a grand prize.
“We want people to take your best picture in front of the sign, any time of day or night, and the one we think is best will get a cash prize,” Billington said. “We want to say, ‘Wow! That was spectacular!’ Somebody’s going to have a cool way of presenting themselves as they present the Central Falls City Lights, which is what we’re calling it.”
The contest is still in the planning stages.
Under the leadership of the mayor, city personnel worked with the R.I. Department of Transportation, state Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to secure the funding needed to remediate the site.
Funding included a $100,000 Brownfields Remediation and Economic Fund Grant through DEM’s Office of Waste Management, a $200,000 Brownfields Cleanup Grant through the EPA, $175,000 from the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency’s EPA Brownfields Revolving Fund, $500,000 in U.S. Department of Transportation funds through RIDOT, and matching funds from the city itself.
“Thanks to the work generated through many strong partnerships, the site will soon be a hub of activity as people come to enjoy new restaurants, embark on a river tour or launch a kayak, or take a break beside the river during a ride on the Blackstone River Bikeway,” Billington said.
“To us, first of all, you always start hyperlocal, and to us hyperlocal is the Square Mile City. It’s come with a first. It’s something that people are going to want to come to and get a picture taken in front of the sign, especially if you live in the city.
“The parking lot has just been paved, so we haven’t put down marks yet, but we’re going to place some sweet spots down where people will know, ‘This is where you stand,’ and ‘This is where the photographer stands’ to get the best shot with the sign … If you’re from Central Falls, you’ll want to do this because this is your hometown up in lights. If you live in Central Falls, you’ve got to do this.
“But if you’re from Central Falls and haven’t visited in years, you’ll want to come back and take your photo in front of it,” he added. “It’s a great moment and a great memory if you’re from the city or live here. The sign belongs to you and it’s a great place for you to celebrate your heritage.
“As for the visitor, people want to have their pictures taken with the Hollywood sign in the background, or Vegas, and here they can do it with Central Falls. I mean, it’s such a beautiful name; it’s a pretty name and a pretty sign. It changes colors; it can do all sorts of fancy things.”