One Block In: Rebuilding after Sandy

Fall 2019

By Hugh Markey
Title Photo by iStock/DepthofField

“You’re gone; there’s nothing”

John Bellone, owner of the Breezeway Resort, had just recently finished buttoning up his Misquamicut hotel and restaurant after the 2012 season. Water was drained from the pipes, and Bellone was feeling good about the situation.

“We’d had a good season. I had just moved to a little cottage on the water in the breachway.” He heard that a severe storm was on its way, but he wasn’t too worried. “Then all hell broke loose. I didn’t know what to expect; I thought, ‘Well, it can’t be that bad.’ After all, we had had Irene a year before so we didn’t think it would be that bad. But I was wrong.”

If Irene had been an ugly but quick encounter of a storm, Superstorm Sandy was an unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave.

Several days after Sandy, Bellone began to work his way toward his business and saw dumpsters on properties that were three blocks away from where they belonged. He soon noticed Breezeway barstools blocks away from his hotel, along with bottles of imported Italian water that only they served, “So that was a really bad sign.”

Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, had not been overly worried before the storm. After a flood in 2010, the chamber felt that they had faced the biggest challenge in their history. Yet Sandy brought a whole new set of difficulties. “Boy, we got tested. That event was training wheels by comparison,” as far as businesses went.

It’s a memory that still causes Konicki distress. “It was horrific. These people have lived here their whole lives. We’re a tight community. They’ve given our kids their first jobs.”

In all, 29 businesses and 500 jobs in the Misquamicut area were affected, says Konicki. Immediately after the storm, business owner George Tattersal hired a plane to shoot pictures of the devastation along the coast. He texted Konicki and others the photos, along with a chilling message: “You’re gone. There’s nothing.”

“IT REMINDED ME OF ONE OF THOSE OLD ITALIAN WAKES WHERE THEY LET THE BODY SIT IN THE HOUSE FOR LIKE A WEEK.”

 

 

MOVING FORWARD

After 100 years of operation, The Andrea Hotel had become a bit frowsy. It had character, like the upper floors that listed a bit as one walked through the halls. But it had no handicapped accessibility and suffered from the wear and tear that a century’s hard use will bring.

Roberta Colucci is co-owner of The Andrea, which her family had operated since 1946. Sandy left the hotel’s southwest foundation severely undermined; there was a flat roof section that would come down. Colucci estimated full restoration would cost at least $2 million. “We just couldn’t justify that for a hundred-year-old building.” It was a tough blow. Roberta and her sister had lost their grandmother a month before, and their mother wanted no part of making such a big decision. In the end, though, they decided the old building would have to come down.

“It took about three weeks to tear down the building,” Colucci says. The slow process made things even tougher on them. “It reminded me of one of those old Italian wakes where they let the body sit in the house for like a week.”

Angela Thoman, business manager at Paddy’s Beach Club, was at home when the storm hit. “With Sandy, we had no indication of how bad it was going to be. Our hurricane preparedness plan was kind of ‘take what you need over the weekend.’ I grabbed my computer, but not much else. In hindsight, I wish we had a better plan for this.”

Thoman had worked with owners Frank Labriola and Paul Doyle since 2002 and was emotionally invested in the club. “When I saw the pictures and realized what it was, I fell to the ground. I was just crying and upset. It was devastating. We put our hearts and souls into that.”

“I moved my office into my home; we held meetings with staff and vendors downstairs in my house.” Though the roof had blown off and the place was unrecognizable, Thoman says the owners weren’t defeated. “At that point it was shock and awe. But almost immediately after the storm, we texted the owners and they said, ‘There’s no time to wait.’ We had to move forward.”

“If you worry about everything, you’ll never move forward…”

(Above) The Andrea Hotel was torn down after it was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Image taken from YouTube video posted by PospolitySlimak

STILL IN IT

Superstorm Sandy forced many businesses in Misquamicut to reconfigure their operations. Some had already considered changes, and the storm forced them to move forward. Bellone made radical changes to the Breezeway’s sister property, the Hotel Maria, which was also damaged by the storm.

“Of course we’re concerned about sea level rise. If you let the beach go where it wants to go, the beach is naturally one block in. We’re next to the water and that is a problem. That’s why we put our building 16 feet above sea level.”

Bellone constructed a smaller restaurant on the bottom floor and rebuilt the rest on pilings with a steel and concrete grid system. “Hopefully the next time the wave comes, we’ll be out of the way.” He remains positive even after the experience: “If you worry about everything, you’ll never move forward. We’re very happy with where we are right now.”

Angela Thoman says Paddy’s, like other businesses, successfully made it through the scramble to open the following Memorial Day.

“We had no experience working with contractors and designers. We decided to create non-permanent structures. We needed to at least get the bare bones together for Memorial Day.”

The design is much the same today. “The outside buildings are temporary structures; the boards are screwed together so they can be easily undone. If we were to need to take something apart, we can do so immediately.” Sales have increased over the years, Colucci says. “We just seat customers on the sand and can store our materials inside the building if we need to.”

Roberta Colucci had originally thought that they would rebuild the hotel. In the short term, they would serve food cooked in the kitchen they were able to salvage to customers seated on the large cement patio where the old building had stood. Though intended as a temporary setup, business was good, and Colucci realized that the new business model would still be profitable. They did spend $300,000 on a seawall. “Hopefully, that will help out a little bit,” she says. Their equipment is stored in Westerly in the off season and can be quickly moved in an emergency. “We’ve designed it to save as much as we can.”

Colucci, too, remains positive: “I’m not really one to wallow in the past. I’m just happy that we’re still in it.”

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