Saying the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce’s support is a key condition, the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday approved an abbreviated summer season for the Pop Up Park at South and Elm.
Originally scheduled for a July 21 to Sept. 3 run, the makeshift park will operate Aug. 3 to 23 following a 3-0 vote by First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams to issue a Special Events permit.
“I am skeptical,” Moynihan said, noting that in the past the Chamber appeared to drive the event with the assistance of a small volunteer committee, not vice versa.
Moynihan also noted that the New Canaan’s local traffic authority, the Police Commission, must circle back to the Pop Up Park’s volunteers to give final approval for a road closure. The commission’s approval, like the selectmen’s issuance of a Special Events permit, is “conditional,” the first selectman said.
“We are not approving August 3rd to 23rd unconditionally,” he said at a regular meeting of selectmen, held in Town Hall. “If we find it is not working, we will revoke the permit before the 23rd, in my view. I will make that point to the Police Commission, that this is not unconditional.”
The vote clears the way for the Pop Up Park after weeks of uncertainty about whether it would return.
The volunteer committee that operates the park—arranging for its setup, activities and performances—discovered in coming before town bodies for approvals that decision-makers wanted the Chamber involved in some way as a trusted sponsoring organization. While the committee members themselves obtained insurance for the Pop Up Park, the selectmen signaled at their June 26 meeting that without the Chamber there as a partner on it and trusted organization with final say should disagreements with merchants arise, they would withhold approval of a Special Events permit.
Since then, Pop Up Park volunteer Barbara Wilson and Chamber Executive Director Tucker Murphy said at the meeting, interested parties including Devereaux, downtown merchants and Town Council Chairman John Engel gathered on multiple occasions to figure out whether a version of the gathering space would be possible this summer.
Ultimately, Murphy said, the negotiation process has been “a difficult challenge” though “I hope we are making some progress.”
Specifically, in addition to the shorter season, the merchants would weigh in on where furniture such as umbrellas would be placed, the Pop Up Park itself would occupy a smaller footprint in its block south of Elm Street, activities would be limited so that there are no ballgames that could adversely affect abutting businesses and Wilson would co-chair the volunteer committee with Marty Skrelunas.
Pending a vote by the organization’s Board of Directors, Murphy said, the Chamber would be a “cooperative partner” on the Pop Up Park under those terms, much the same way as it supports Caffeine & Carburetors when that event is held downtown.
Murphy added that some of the merchants opposed to the Pop Up Park have a problem with its very central location—leading to concerns about traffic flow, primarily—and are not against such a gathering space in concept. During the meeting, L’Armoire owner Diane Roth noted Morse Court, the front lawn of Town Hall and “Christine’s Garden” at New Canaan Library as possible locations. (Other store owners who are against the Pop Up Park at South and Elm—including Helen Richards of Odesmith & Richards and Mary Jane Setter of Togs—voiced opposition again, as did Amanda Cui of Funky Monkey, which is closing.)
Murphy noted that not all merchants are opposed to the Pop Up Park where it is.
Durin the public comments section of the selectmen meeting, Clarice Carmichael of Louise’s Lane spoke in favor of the Pop Up Park, saying “an August without” it is “an August spent skulking around Main and Elm with little reprieve from the heat.”
In the extreme heat, the Pop Up Park serves as a welcome place of respite and shade for downtown shoppers, Carmichael said, and also serves as “as cheerful a study space as one could hope for.”
“The Pop Up Park may not seem like much to some, but for other residents, those like me, it makes staying in New Canaan for the summer something to look forward to,” she said.
Williams said he was a “big supporter” of the Pop Up Park and said he was “delighted” that the Chamber and volunteers had managed to reach a consensus with merchants. Addressing the question of whether the Pop Up Park could be run as smoothly as it has in the past with the volunteer group taking a lead role, Williams said: “I think the burden, the responsibility is on the people who are supporting the park, who use the park, to police it.”
Residents and downtown visitors must also support New Canaan’s merchants, he said.
“Don’t shop online,” Williams said. “You may save a few pennies here and a few pennies there, but it’s important that we have a lively downtown and that depends on our stores and our merchants being able to survive. Because otherwise we lose a huge fabric of New Canaan, so shop downtown.”
Referring to her take on a Pop Up Park meeting that had taken place, Devereaux noted that “a sticking point before seemed to be that if something was obviously wrong, could the Chamber of Commerce say, ‘This kiosk needs to be moved.’ ”
“And everyone seemed to say, ‘Yes,’ ” Devereaux said.
She added: “I think it’s wonderful that there will be a Pop Up Park presence for three weeks.”
[Note: This article has been updated to describe those who attended meetings regarding the park.]