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April 7, 2013

Somerset group reveals plans to breathe life into empty Main Street park

Design includes concert stage, movie screen, cafe-style seating for outdoor dining

SOMERSET, Pa. — After the ashes settled from a fire that gutted a borough church in 1965, a small park was planted in its place.

It’s tucked in the rear of a rectangular tract on West Main Street. It’s green and grassy — and too often, empty, Somerset leaders say.

But the park’s new owner, Somerset Inc., has an ambitious plan to change that. The group on Tuesday unveiled designs that add a stage for concerts, a screen for summertime movies and outdoor cafe-style seating for lunchtime dining.

“You could add a major new venue in town, whether it’s for Fire & Ice, a band in the park or other events,” Stromberg/ Garrigan & Associates landscape architect Sean Garrigan said during a park concept gathering at Somerset Trust Co. “The idea is to open up the park, make it more vibrant and inviting.”

Current designs show a small water jet fountain at the front of the park, where an entrance was landscaped with flower gardens to extend it toward West Main Street.

Rain gardens would be added for aesthetics while soaking up rainfall. At one side of the park, an elevated brick patio would be added where tables could be placed for diners to bring lunches from nearby restaurants, Garrigan added.

A small stage was depicted on the other side of the park with a painted mural behind it showing the reflection of the former Trinity Lutheran Church, which was lost in the fire. Decorative poles were shown lighting a path to Patriot Street behind the park.

Such changes would revamp the park, Somerset Inc. board member Michael Friedhofer said. The group and previous owners have tried many times to bring new life to it — a Main Street Music Series was held there for years — but it was tough to pull off and the event fizzled out five years ago, members said.

“It meant running electrical wires into the property; adding seating,” he said. “It just isn’t suitable.”

But it could be, said Alice Ireland, whose restaurant, Crazy Alice’s, sits just a few doors down.

“Movies in the park? What a great way to lure people uptown,” she said, calling the park “a gem” in the rough.

But polishing that gem won’t be cheap — or an overnight task, Garrigan said.

A fundraising campaign is needed and would go a long way toward efforts to get state funding matches for Department of Conservation and Natural Resources aid to make the project happen, he added.

He envisions the park developing in stages, initially focusing on the park entrance, infrastructure and other groundwork.

Somerset Inc. will initially seek a minimum of $20,000 in state aid, Garrigan said. The project will require local matching funds.

“It’s going to take time,” he said. If all goes well, the first phase construction could be under way in 2014.

Additions such as the stage would be added in the years that followed.

Somerset Inc. members said they hope to put a sign detailing plans on the park site, and perhaps inside local businesses, to drum up support.

“If people see it, I think they’ll get on board,” Ireland said. “It’s a great idea.”

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