Move Thursday night concerts? Selectmen try to solve businesses parking concerns

Summer concert-night parking problems would be addressed by moving one of the two free weekly musical performances from Ballard Park to a location outside the village, as part of a plan the selectmen are looking into.

“The thought would be to move the Thursday nights, the Thursday night concerts, and only have Tuesday night,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

The Thursday night free concerts would move to the Recreation Center property — at least that’s the location being investigated. The Tuesday concerts would remain in Ballard Park.

Continuing to hear complaints that village businesses lose potential customers when concert goers fill up parking places in the lots closest to Ballard Park, the Board of Selectmen looked for a solution acceptable to all stakeholders at its meeting April 19. The session was attended by Parks and Recreation Director Paul Roche, Barbara Dobbin of the Parks and Recreation Commission, and Chris Fusaro and Jessica Wilmot of the Parking Authority.

Wilmot, who is also a restaurant owner, said she would be satisfied with a parking plan that leaves enough parking empty for use by businesses customers.

Selectwoman Barbara Manners, organizer of the concerts that have brought free music to Ballard Park weekly since 2002, said that CHIRP — the non-profit organization that puts them on — can contribute $100 per concert to hire police or other parking enforcement personnel to monitor the CVS lot.

Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark didn’t feel this would solve the problem, and argued the concerts should be moved to a different venue.

“The concerts are great, people really appreciate them,” she said, “but for the last two years we’ve had difficulties with parking and merchants who have angst and difficulty over what should be a positive experience

“We need to think about what would be another great venue to put the concerts to get them out of the middle of town,” said Kozlark.

Manners said that by this close to the start of the summer concert seasons it’s too late to consider a change in venue. The concerts take planning and infrastructure, such as lighting, staging, and other equipment.

“Having the concerts in town is a real benefit,” said Dobbin. “I understand that certain businesses suffer and other businesses benefit; I believe that there is a large attendance of people who are not from Ridgefield who come into town and see the value and benefits of the community, so I don’t think there are any options for this year — although there may be options down the road.”

School field idea

Dobbin said Parks and Recreation, a co-sponsor of the concerts, has taken measures to reduce noise complaints from area neighbors by eliminating events on Friday nights and concluding all events by 9:30 p.m.

But, Kozlark wasn’t satisfied. She suggested a new location, such as a school field with parking and electricity.

“With all due respect to the commission, we can’t just say we can’t do it this year and then we’re done,” Kozlark said

Roche said that having the concerts at the park on Tuesday nights and at a different location on Thursday nights could be a possible solution. (Thursdays are traditionally a more important night than Tuesdays for restaurants — the bulk of the businesses still open when the concerts start at 7).

But, that would be too difficult to plan for this year, he said.

Technology to the rescue

An audience member told the board about a smartphone application that could alleviate matters.

“There’s a tool that helps you know where to park via a phone application,” he said.

“The Parking Authority will be able to tell us which lots they want people to go to, and they’ll be able to find it right on their phone.”

Marconi said Monday that “at a minimum” the selectmen would like to see the parking plan presented by the Parking Authority put into practice. The plan allows much of the CVS lot to be used for concert parking, but also sets aside some areas for parking by business customers only.

“That’s first, as well as the hiring of two parking attendants … to direct traffic,” Marconi said.

Footing the bill

What would that cost?

“We don’t know. I’d say probably in the area of $400 to $500 a night,” Marconi said.

“CHIRP has agreed to contribute $100 per concert,” Marconi said. “And, more importantly, we ask that people listen to the requests that are being made not only by CHIRP director Barbara Manners, but the parking enforcement people working — and the signanage.

“And the only way the concerts have any chance of staying in the park is if we get cooperation from the people attending, because we don’t want to hurt the business community.”

Kozlark arranged a meeting with Roche the following morning to look for ways to make the location change  — relocating the Thursday concerts, while the Tuesday concerts remain in Ballard Park — possible this summer.

They’re considering an area on the rec center property, she said.

“Paul showed me a nice spot behind Parks and Rec (to the north) he feels would work nicely,” Kozlark said Monday. “There are some details to work out — such as safely providing electricity for the concerts — which he working on.”