Expanded Town Party plans face possible lack of police

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Resident Scott Weicker shows on the map how the expanded plans for the Greenwich Town Party could turn Greenwich Avenue into a “walking mall.” However, a lack of police manpower could curtail the plans. - Ken Borsuk photo

Resident Scott Weicker shows on the map how the expanded plans for the Greenwich Town Party could turn Greenwich Avenue into a “walking mall.” However, a lack of police manpower could curtail the plans. – Ken Borsuk photo

The Greenwich Town Party is looking to grow even bigger this year, but not having enough police to cover those plans could put the kibosh on them.

The town party, which has taken place the previous two years to great acclaim from residents and town officials, is once again slated to be held during Memorial Day weekend in May. Last year a headlining performance from Paul Simon and a surprise appearance from Dave Matthews were highlights, and while performers have not yet been announced for this year, a big expansion has been proposed that would extend the festivities from the original location of Roger Sherman Baldwin Park up through most of Greenwich Avenue.

Greenwich resident Scott Weicker, who has been closely involved with the Greenwich Town Party since its inception three years ago, spoke about this with the Board of Selectmen at its Jan. 24 meeting and outlined the plans.

“The vision of this is inclusivity and how does this Greenwich Town Party spread from this one park where we have a limited capacity to other areas within the town of Greenwich,” Mr. Weicker said. “If [town party founder] Ray Dalio could have a stadium of 100,000 in Greenwich where he could get everybody in one spot to enjoy the Greenwich Town Party, he would, but we don’t have that type of facility. So we want to extend it.”

Mr. Weicker said the current setup at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park, where the musical acts performed and food was served, with Long Island Sound as a backdrop, would not change. Instead, the extension would bring new areas into it to allow merchants to get involved and local bands to perform, with a stage possibly being set up in the Board of Education parking lot. Mr. Weicker said the Avenue would essentially become a “walking mall” south of the its intersection with Lewis Street all the way down crossing over onto West and East Elm and ending at the intersection with Havemeyer Place.

Mr. Weicker said the goal is to be able to attract larger crowds from town to the event and bring business to the merchants in the area. He said they would solicit the support of the businesses and get them involved with the party. Scott Mitchell of Richards and Terry Betteridge of Betteridge Jewelers are already on board, according to Mr. Weicker, along with the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce.

“We feel that the Greenwich Town Party’s theme truly is celebration of family, community spirit and giving back,” Mr. Weicker said. “We believe the reasons why this proposal makes sense is that it makes Greenwich Avenue an extension and an integral part of the Greenwich Town Party.”

Mr. Weicker added that the aim was to make Greenwich Avenue a “destination point” for people that day, and he predicted merchants would embrace the idea.

The party would cover the “normal business hours” of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and would necessitate closing a large portion of Greenwich Avenue, and that’s where the complication exists. Greenwich police Sgt. John Slusarz, head of the department’s traffic division, said the walking mall idea was “an exciting one” but that it did not seem possible for there to be enough police officers assigned to cover both Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and the closed portion of Greenwich Avenue.

“Our command structure has seen some significant issues they asked me to bring to the board,” Sgt. Slusarz said. “No. 1 is manpower. The Police Department is about public safety, and trying to project a number of months ahead with manpower we can’t at this time say that we can support the manpower requirements for both the Greenwich Town Party as it stands right now and a walking mall. There are also issues with the increased outside traffic coming to the area coming to Exit 3 and previously scheduled safety programs being supported by the state DOT and the U.S. DOT on a grant for DUI enforcement that weekend, which will also be eating into our manpower issues.”

First Selectman Peter Tesei suggested bringing in private security for the party area to free up police officers. However, Sgt. Slusarz noted that private security would not have the legal ability to make arrests or direct traffic on town property and said there were several incidents involving drinking and disputes that had required police attention. He added that there was a difficulty finding the required number of officers for last year’s party and, with more area to cover, it would be even harder this year.

However, all parties indicated a willingness to overcome this challenge. The selectmen did not vote on the proposal but are expected to bring it up again at their Feb. 14 meeting, with further updates from the Police Department.

“We all have a desire to see this happen,” Mr. Tesei said. “We recognize there perhaps are limitations, but I’m not convinced there isn’t a solution to see this through.”

Mr. Weicker added, “We’re willing to work any which way we can to make this happen.”

Parking is not thought to be a concern with the plans. While approximately 200 spaces would not be available if part of Greenwich Avenue was closed for the day, Mr. Weicker said arrangements have been made to open up the lot at 100 West Putnam Avenue with an entrance behind St. Mary’s Church to allow for 412 spots for people to park. Mr. Mitchell has also reportedly volunteered the 100 spots behind his business with an entrance to the lot on Mason Street.

The party was the idea of Mr. Dalio, a Greenwich resident who said he wanted to do something for all members of the community similar to the neighborhood block parties of his youth and what he and his wife had seen in Europe. Tickets will be available to town residents only and are expected to cost in the range of $40, far below the cost for the event, to allow for people from all over town to attend. The lion’s share of the costs would be picked up by Mr. Dalio and other donors.

Mr. Dalio was not able to attend the meeting, but Mr. Weicker was able to play a video message from him in which he spoke about his vision for the party.

“My son took a course and studied happiness in all different societies, and it was interesting that he found there’s no correlation between money and happiness and the thing there was the most correlation with is community,” Mr. Dalio said. “Those who had a sense of community were happiest. I think that’s true. It rings true to me when you bring people together in a community where everybody pitches in. … The idea of having a great party together is something that, besides being a great event, is something that carries through the years. You feel connected, and not just through the party itself. It’s in the work. It’s in the contributing to it. It’s in everybody throwing something into the pot.”

 

editor@greenwich-post.com

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