‘Pop Up Park’ Under Threat As Organizers Scramble for Insurance, Town Approval

The Police Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to require the organizers of the Pup Up Park to return next month with proof of insurance and coordination with the town in order to retain a planned six-week road closure needed to operate the makeshift gathering space.

In the past, officials noted during the Commission’s regular meeting, the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce had provided insurance and also coordinated with the town, though a separate, small group of volunteers oversaw the actual day-to-day operation of the summer park at South and Elm.

Yet “the sponsoring organization obviously has withdrawn from the entire concept,” Commission Chairman Sperry DeCew said at the group’s regular meeting, held at the New Canaan Police Department.

“So at this point, we have a group of five well-meaning citizens who want to have a Pop Up Park, but at this point there is no appointed liaison to the town of New Canaan. So far as we know, there is no approval by the town of New Canaan on the special permit level, and there is certainly no insurance. So all of these things are fundamental. Whether or not you achieve a new sponsor in the next month I think is almost secondary to the other things, of showing the town of New Canaan at their level that you have got insurance, that you have got coordination with them, that you have people in charge who are going to take care of this thing and look over it.”

He addressed Barbara Wilson and Betsy Wilson, residents who for years have helped run the Pop Up Park, an outdoor-furnished an all-pedestrian area cordoned off above the intersection at Morse Court that features various entertainment and activities in the summer. In April, the Commission—in its capacity as New Canaan’s local traffic authority, responsible for road closures—approved a July 21 to Sept. 3 season for the Pop Up Park. 

Tucker Murphy, executive director of the Chamber, had served in recent years as a liaison to the volunteer Pop Up Park committee, though she no longer does.

The Pop Up Park’s organizers told the Commission that they learned only recently that they’d have to obtain their own insurance as well as a nonprofit foundation to handle the money that the facility raises to support itself. 

DeCew said the committee appeared to have described its situation right now accurately as “in disarray.”

“That is not the Commission’s problem and it certainly is not the town of New Canaan’s problem,” he said. “So I would suggest that you have a lot of homework to do in a very quick period of time.”

Betsy Wilson said the committee’s members “have been actively trying to find a solution and meeting with the appropriate entities, so as soon as we have a solution with the insurance—if you like we can go ahead and get that insurance and enroll in one of the plans.”

DeCew said it would be “fundamental” to what is known as the “Special Events Committee” to have proof of insurance prior to approving the Pop Up Park for this summer.

Betsy Wilson said the volunteers had been told they couldn’t even apply for a required special permit.

“So what shall we do?” she said.

Asked for details, Barbara Wilson said the head of the Special Events Committee—the administrative officer in the office of First Selectman Kevin Moynihan—“said he is not allowed to accept if we fill out a special events permit [application].”

To Police Commissioner Paul Foley’s comment that “That puts an end to it,” Barbara Wilson responded: “How is that legal? You understand the situation we are up against?”

Led by Administrative Officer Tom Stadler, the Special Events Committee is an administrative team that coordinates large events around town to ensure they do not overlap in ways that create practical problems. For example, the Committee in the past has issued individual neighborhoods permits for “block parties” and the like. According to the application for Special Event Permits, events held on town or school property require a minimum $1 million liability policy.

According to Barbara Wilson, the Pop Up Park volunteers will go before the Board of Selectmen next week instead of the Special Events Committee itself. 

Asked whether the volunteers are prepared to go before the selectmen, she said: “Absolutely.”

Starting in 2012 and for three years, the Pop Up Park ran for a limited number of weekends, with its organizers taking on the labor-intensive work of setting it up on a Friday evening and pulling it back down by Sunday night. The town approved an all-summer run in 2015, but the Pop Up Park didn’t run at all that year after some merchants raised concerns. It returned the following summer, running for three continuous weeks last August and in 2017, the Pop Up Park launched July 15 at the Sidewalk Sale and remained in place through Labor Day weekend, with various organizations, professionals and musicians offering entertainment, exercises and classes.

Commissioners last summer voiced concerns over a proposal from the Pop Up Park’s organizers to allow nonprofit and community organizations to sell items there such as Girl Scout Cookies or fundraiser tickets. Wilson said the committee had “tabled” that suggestion.

In April, when the Police Commission approved a six-week season that was shorter than what organizers had wanted, commissioners said that a two-month season was too long, given lingering opposition among some residents and merchants.

A handful of those opposition merchants were in attendance at the meeting, as was Murphy, though they said nothing. DeCew said as the Commission took up the Pop Up Park item on its agenda that the panel would entertain no opinions about the existence or location of the park.

According to Barbara Wilson, entities that have agreed to serve as sponsors for the Pop Up Park include the New Canaan Community Foundation and William Pitt Sotheby’s. 

“We have several options for insurance but we have yet to pay for and get insurance because we have had a lot of change happening and we have been trying to make sure there is a secure situation before we pay for it,” Betsy Wilson said. “We do not have an insurance policy because we are going through logistics to make sure the park is happening.”

Ultimately, DeCew, Foley and Commissioner Jim McLaughlin voted 3-0 to condition the six-week road closure on the Pop Up Park volunteers obtaining insurance, a special events permit and town approval. 

The Police Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for July 18. 

2 thoughts on “‘Pop Up Park’ Under Threat As Organizers Scramble for Insurance, Town Approval

  1. I hope the Pop-Up Park can come to fruition. It adds a special touch for summer shoppers and community engagement. It always makes me smile when I see people enjoying it!

  2. Small downtowns around the country have found that art, shelter and other small places and spaces that enhance and reshape the traditional street-building-parking space layout. Easy, simple redesigns using Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) strategies– ‘Placemaking’ –can help turn just another downtown street into a Main Street with lots of things to see and do and experience all year around. The Pop Up Park has demonstrated how people positively respond to a different main street environment, even for just a short while. What New Canaan needs is a full, expansive rethink of the downtown now, even as a new mall is going up just a few minutes away in Norwalk.

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