Pop Up Park shelved after merchants’ concerns
Published 5:41 pm, Tuesday, June 9, 2015
A plan to keep the Pop Up Park downtown open from mid-June through Labor Day is kaput after a group of merchants sparked debate by questioning whether its prolonged presence would harm businesses.
Organizers scrapped the temporary plaza at South Avenue and Elm Street, which has been kept up and taken down over the past two summers on a nearly weekly basis. The cordoned off plaza, with chairs and plants where visitors could meet and talk, had grown in popularity during its first three seasons.
Despite a long effort to get the town on board with the plan, organizers shut down the park after a June 1 letter to the chamber signed by 16 merchants became public, Murphy said. The objections in the letter prompted a charged response from supporters of the park, Murphy said.
“Our plan was (to meet the merchants) to avoid it becoming a huge public outcry one way or the other against the park,” Murphy said. “Nobody wanted this to become a big divisive issue, that was my number one goal, to not let it divide the merchants and resident community.”
“The people who very much supported the Pop Up Park came out swinging. It got ugly,” Murphy said. “People were saying it was ridiculous and that the park was a great thing.”
Pimlico co-owner Jill Saunders, who wrote the letter to the chamber, said business owners think the Pop Up Park idea is “great” but did not support the chosen location, which would occupy a major entry point to the downtown for an extended period.
The June 1 letter argued the people who use the park weekdays are mostly area employees who don’t patronize local businesses and questioned the extent organizers asserted the Pop Up Park drew pedestrian and bicycle traffic to the downtown.
“The heart and idea (of the park) are in the right place but the location isn’t right,” Saunders said. “We’d like to be involved more in the future to find a solution because it is a great idea. But it has to be in a different place.”
While merchants might be partially at fault for not turning out to hearings on the park proposal, organizers should have kept merchants apprised about plans to keep the park open on a continuous basis over the summer, she said.
“In the beginning I really liked the idea of it but then they put it up for two and three weeks and merchants began to have concerns,” Saunders said.
In late May, the town’s police commission gave conditional approval to keep the park open continually throughout the summer contingent on approving an operational plan to keep the space clean and address liability issues.
Murphy said the consensus of comments at a packed community coffee hour held the morning of Friday, June 5, to discuss the park issue included comments of support from members of the town’s Board of Selectmen, zoning commissioners and town council members.
“They love the idea and love the fact it brings people to town but just want to think about a new location,” Murphy said.
Murphy said she and others have doubts a Pop Up Park somewhere more “tucked away,” could become a significant attraction or spur business.
Visitors to the park did patronize downtown merchants to a significant degree, Murphy said.
“You tuck it away someplace I personally don’t think if it is somewhere else we’ll get the same result and goal which was to bring people together,” Murphy said. “The feedback I heard was that people met people they never met before . . . The merchants who felt it was not a good thing for them I think they heard that a lot of people do use the shops.”