Around the Valley: Gaspee gala, MLK Day cancellation

The stage at World War II Memorial Park in Woonsocket, where the annual Autumnfest celebration is held, is set for replacement.

The following are briefs and news from around the Blackstone Valley.

The Gaspee Days Committee to hold ‘The Path to Freedom Started Here’ Gala 

250 years ago – on June 9, 1772 – the British H.M.S. Gaspee Schooner was burned by colonists on Narragansett Bay in Warwick. Now in 2022, the RI 250th Semiquincentennial Commission, established through the RI General Assembly, signed by Gov. Dan McKee and chaired by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, is planning a series of state-wide events to celebrate Rhode Island’s 250th anniversary which include the burning of the H.M.S. Gaspee. 

The RI 250th Commission plans to promote Rhode Island’s unique role in the founding of our country and stimulate the local economy through civic engagement and tourism opportunities.

The Gaspee Days Committee will kick off the Semiquincentennial anniversary with a festive gala at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet on February 24. Honorary co-chairs for the event are McKee; Gorbea; Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse; Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin; Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, Attorney General Peter Neronha, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Mayor Frank Picozzi, Mayor Ken Hopkins and Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Tickets are available at the Gaspee Days website or by contacting Tracey Miller at

The Gaspee Days kickoff is the first of many events planned for Rhode Island 250th anniversary.

Legislators approve spending portion of ARPA funds

The General Assembly recently approved and the governor signed into law a plan for using $119 million of Rhode Island’s $1.13 billion American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Funds to help children, families, small businesses and the tourism industry, and boost affordable housing and broadband planning. 

Legislators added $6 million to further enhance support for child care needs, as well as safeguards and specifics, to the plan that was originally proposed by McKee.

With the additional $6 million, the child care initiative allocates $18.7 million for retention bonuses for child care workers and $300,000 for family childcare start-up incentives and technical assistance grants.

Lawmakers kept the proposed $5.5 million the governor allocated toward Early Intervention Programs, and $7.5 million for pediatric health. In both cases, during committee hearings on the proposal, they added more specific wording to ensure the funding is allocated as proposed, and they also tweaked the allocation for Early Intervention to reflect an additional, separate $3.6 million that was recently made available from CARES Act funding for stabilization purposes.

To help ease the housing crisis, legislators kept the $29.5 million allocation the governor proposed, but added requirements that the administration work in conjunction with all other available funds, and linked the money’s use to the development of guidelines for the use of Housing Production Fund lawmakers created last year as a means of pushing for action in creating that framework. They also added language specifying the allowable uses of $1.5 million included for housing stability for 500 people experiencing homelessness, and required monthly progress reports on the use of those funds and other included funds for housing.

To support small business recovery, the Assembly added language specifying the intended uses of the $32 million they agreed to allocate toward businesses and tourism, and limiting grants to businesses that gross less than $1 million annually and can demonstrate negative impacts caused by the pandemic. Lawmakers also required that 20 percent of the funds go toward minority-owned businesses.

New entertainment stage coming to WWII Park

The Woonsocklet City Council has allocated $150,000 for the building of a new permanent stage at World War II Veterans Memorial Park. The current stage was built more than 40 years ago mostly out of wood and through the years of use was now in need of repairs.

The $150,000 funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act, and the money was approved at the November 15 Woonsocket City Council meeting by an unanimous vote.

Autumnfest Steering Committee thanked the council along with Dan Peloquin of DP Architects, who designed the preliminary plans for the new stage.

“I am extremely thrilled to hear of this news and I want to thank the Woonsocket City Council for approving this money for a new entertainment stage,” said Judy Sullivan, Autumnfest General Chairperson. “Having a new stage is a great move forward for the City of Woonsocket and Autumnfest. World War II Veterans Memorial Park is a beautiful park and having this new entertainment stage which can be used year-round is a wonderful finishing touch.”

“Our current stage at World War II Veterans Memorial Park has provided Woonsocket with a superb outdoor performance platform over the years that has become deeply rooted in our community and local culture. Now that we have ARPA money, I along with the City Council see upgrading it, and making it an even more dynamic setting, to be a great use of these funds,” said Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. “Our enhanced stage will give us a more vibrant year-round venue for concerts, school and local theater group plays, special programs, and movies in the park, and will increase neighborhood involvement and strengthen civic pride.”                                                                               #

Autumnfest is the largest community festival in Northern Rhode Island now entering its 44th year, held every Columbus Day weekend.

Hull announces the cancelation of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday event due to COVID

Rep. Raymond A. Hull, Chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission, has announced the cancelation of this year’s annual celebration of the life, and death, of the great civil rights leader due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the cancelation of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. State Holiday event this year due to the recent surge of COVID-19 in our state,” said Hull. “With infections rising at an alarming rate within our boarders, I cannot in good conscience hold this annual celebration if it means putting people in the harmful path of this virus.”

“Dr. King understood that love, respect, compassion and forgiveness was the only true path toward healing our society’s ills and even though this year’s celebration is canceled, I ask that you all continue to believe in his dream of a better world as we face the challenges of today,” said Hull, a Democrat representing District 6 in Providence and North Providence.

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