Blackstone Valley Tourism Council seeks tenants for 295 Visitor Center

Blackstone Valley Tourism Council seeks tenants for 295 Visitor Center

The Blackstone River State Park Visitor Center was completed in 2006 and sees approximately 40,000 people a year. (Valley Breeze photo by Jessica Boisclair)

LINCOLN - Completed in 2006, the Blackstone River State Park Visitor Center was said to be a focal point for the Blackstone River corridor, bringing together state, federal and local agencies.

Today, however, aside from a few state-run offices, the building sits relatively vacant.

In the beginning, a Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins Ice Cream duo set up shop inside the center, allowing it to remain open 24 hours a day.

Bob Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, which leases the building from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins Ice Cream left the center two years ago for "reasons unknown."

Since then, the tourism council has worked diligently to find new business owners who may be interested in moving in.

"Dunkin' Donuts was a good spot, and we look at the open space as a great opportunity, but we haven't had anybody in there in years, which is a concern, and we continue to have people asking us about the spot," he said.

Billington said when the Dunkin' Donuts was located inside the 9,700-square-foot facility, more than 300,000 people annually would visit the center.

But now, approximately 40,000 stop by.

Members of the tourism council almost got their wish two months back, when a local woman and her son eagerly pursued the Visitor Center as the location for their restaurant, Blackstone's Bistro.

Unfortunately, Billington said, the pair backed out prior to signing the lease, listing budgetary constraints as their key reason.

"We're still very eagerly looking. We'd like to have a nice coffee shop, hopefully locally owned, and somebody looking for a new opportunity that we can work with and help them grow into a very vibrant place," he said.

Elizabeth Stone, spokesperson for the R.I. DEM, said there are two restrictions tied into the lease that might affect the tourism council's ability to sublease the building.

"There cannot be a drive-through, which proposes an issue for Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's, and also because it's state-owned property, no alcohol is allowed so we cannot permit a contract with a restaurant that serves alcohol," she said.

But for the most part, she said, R.I. DEM officials have left the search and decisions up to the council members.

He said the council is seeking entrepreneurs who would open a place that offered breakfast, lunch, and possibly dinner at the visitor center.

Billington said there are three types of consumers the center could market to: leisurely traffic, truckers and cyclists.

A half-mile from the Blackstone bikeway in Ashton, the location of the structure gives locals who use the bike path a chance to utilize the center as well.

This is also the only place in the state where truckers can stop and sleep overnight.

He said each truck has a designated spot and would not affect parking for future restaurants.