Warren RiverWalk edges closer to reality
The walk — what planners envision as an unbroken strip of publicly accessible land along the river, stretching from the American Tourister plant south to the town beach — dates back to the town's Warren Waterscape Plan, drafted in 1976. Over the years, interest in it has waxed and waned, but now town officials and neighborhood advocates are working with business owners to open up new sections of Water Street to the public and put a shine and polish on those areas already under town control (see side story). Meanwhile, the town has applied for a $100,000 state DEM grant to help build parts of the walk and should hear by the Spring whether or not they're approved.
If the money comes through, town officials will be able to install signs, chairs and other attractions at sections of the walk open to the public, which at this point account for about a third of the real estate in question. The remaining challenge, though, will be convincing private property owners along Water Street to open up their land to public traffic at the water's edge. To that end, at least one private owner is already on board, saying development of the walk would pay huge economic dividends in that it would give visitors yet another reason to visit Warren.
Greg Esmay bought the Wharf Tavern restaurant nearly two years ago and has spent much of the time since working to rejuvenate the property, which had fallen into disrepair under previous owners.
He loves Warren, he said, and that's why he has already agreed with town officials to allow public access across his property when town officials have enough money to install a boardwalk from Miller Street at the north to the park at Baker Street to the south. The path would run across the water's edge, looping around the Wharf on the building's boardwalk and skirting the water at the edge of the parking lot.
Though it might take away some of his parking spots, Mr. Esmay said he is all for the walk.
"We love the idea," he said. "Anything like that that helps the community, I'm all for it. If you have a business in a town, you want that community to be successful. Towns thrive when you do stuff like this."
The Wharf Tavern is one of the first large-scale examples of the Walk's promise, as the town required the public easement along the restaurant's perimeter deck when the restaurant was being built in 1986.
Mr. Esmay has been working to have awnings made for the deck and hopes to put in floats for fishermen, so that there will be plenty of space for walkers to walk around the building while fishermen fish.
As for the parking spots, he said allowing the town to build through his property is a no brainer.
"If you don't do something to bring people to town, those parking spots aren't going to be filled anyway," he said. "This helps."
One of the Walk's biggest advocates over the years has been Davison Bolster. He advocated for the walk during his one-term tenure on the Warren Town Council and since leaving the council in November, has spent time talking to business and property owners along the route. His ultimate hope is to convince others what he said Mr. Esmay already knows — that opening up land for public waterfront access will pay huge dividends for the town. He also wants to capitalize on the momentum the DEM grant could generate:
"This would be such a winner for the town," he said. "I think that this grant coming along is going to give some new momentum into the push to get the walk developed. If people could see how much we already have under our control, they'd be amazed."