Business leaders are planning to extend from May to September a program that last summer on four weekends saw a makeshift, all-pedestrian area installed in the square of South Avenue between Elm Street and Morse Court (see photos, map at right).
With enthusiastic feedback following the pilot last July and August, the “Pop-Up Park” organized by the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce is slated to become a weekend fixture in the heart of downtown for 18 weekends in 2013.
“My vision is that it becomes a permanent town gathering space that residents and visitors will come to expect and enjoy, as well as take advantage of everything we have going on in the town, whether that’s going out to eat, dropping in before dinner or after dinner or just a place for people and families to spend time while they’re in the area,” said Tucker Murphy, the chamber’s president and a driving force behind the park.
With help from a New Canaan Community Foundation “local first fund” used to secure tables, chairs and market umbrellas, the loan of a centerpiece fountain from Frogtown Nurseries and support from area businesses (they provided popcorn and other refreshments), the park operated from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The New Canaan Police Commission recently signed off on the park’s extended 2013 schedule.
Here’s a snapshot of some Pop-Up Park-related data the chamber presented recently at the Board of Selectmen’s regular monthly meeting:
- 87 percent of New Canaan merchants surveyed thought it was “great”
- 7 percent thought traffic congestion increased, while 23 percent said traffic was less
- 7 percent said parking was more difficult, and 11 percent said it was easier
“We loved it,” said Jill Saunders, and principal at Pimlico—a 10-year-old business which has been located for 18 months at the southeast corner of South and Elm (where Radio Shack was all those years ago). “We thought it was a great addition to the town. It was nice to see families gathering and it created a sense of community which keeps that small-town feel here. It’s so important.”
“It helped my business and there was no traffic issue,” said Art Kean, owner of the Mobil station adjacent to the park.
Kean said the only traffic issues that he thought may come with cordoning off the square for the park would be for delivery drivers who wouldn’t be able to sidle up just next to their destinations, and emergency response vehicles seeking to get as quickly as possible to the upper half of Elm Street’s main drag from South Avenue itself.
As with any project, the Pop-Up Park has a list of items that need to be addressed, and they include loading zone relocation. Murphy in her presentation lists some, which include:
- Better water, power sources needed
- Improved signage at Cherry Street before the plaza
- More attractive and effective barriers to the park are needed
Barbara Cleary of Barbara Cleary’s Realty Guild, a 25-year-old business located on the southeast corner of South Avenue and Morse Court, said the Pop-Up Park “gives a heart to the village.”
“We are sort of known as a charming village community, and to have tables and chairs in nice weather, for you to meet people and have lunch and sit outside and have entertainment and options—I don’t know what she (Murphy) is planning but I know that whatever it is adds a real draw for people who want to come for shopping.”
Murphy herself says she’s embracing a spirit of discovery and possibility with the park.
“We don’t have a town green like a lot of towns,” Murphy said.
Fueled by research Murphy and others did about public gathering spaces and a local market demand study, the park in the future may include a projector showing movies, more different types of music (it had a crooner and pianist last summer), and possibly even seasonal facilities such as a skating rink during the holiday season.
The park likely would “make people come more often and stay longer” in the downtown area, Murphy said.
“In New Canaan what makes our downtown shopping district so different is it’s experiential,” she said. “You come downtown, and when you have flowerpots in the trees, lampposts lit up, light music, laughing and conversations with families and teens and everyone, that’s just magical.”