Bordered by a river, train tracks and I-95, Saugatuck can’t get much bigger.
But it keeps growing. New apartments, restaurants and businesses make Westport’s original center — and “2nd downtown” — livelier than ever.
Slice of Saugatuck grows each year too. The 4th annual edition — set for Saturday (September 12, noon-3 p.m.) — is the biggest yet.
More merchants than ever — 44 — are participating. Over 2 dozen eateries will offer food and/or drinks; other shops will show off their wares. There’s a new mini-Maker Space, drones, obstacle courses and more, along with 7 musical groups (and the fire station’s traditional open house).
Plus — once the Slice ends — a free concert, with 2 “Sweet Sounds o’ Summer” bands playing in Luciano Park (3 and 5 p.m.).
It’s a triple win for Westport, says Chamber of Commerce executive director Matthew Mandell, who created the 1st Slice of Saugatuck in 2011.
It promotes Saugatuck merchants and the area. It gives the community a great event. And it raises money for the homeless and hungry.
The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry is again the beneficiary. They received $10,000 in proceeds from the past 2 festivals.
Slice of Saugatuck tickets are $10 per adult, $5 for children 6-12 (available on site). Any way you slice it, that’s a bargain!
From Bridge Square to Railroad Place — and everywhere else — Slice of Saugatuck is packed. (Photo/Terry Cosgrave)
For many years, Luciano Park was a thriving neighborhood playground.
For 2 years during college, in fact, my summer job was supervising the small Saugatuck spot, between the railroad station and parking lot. Another counselor and I kept an eye on kids, organized a few games, and set up bus trips to amusement parks and Yankee Stadium.
Luciano Park, looking from Railroad Place and Charles Street toward the parking lot. (Photo/JP Vellotti)
Later, when Parks and Rec stopped funding the positions — and the area changed — Luciano Park was known mainly as the site of the annual Festival Italiano.
These days, it’s largely forgotten. And almost completely unused.
Home plate remains, but the rest of the softball diamond is gone. View is toward Railroad Place. (Photo/JP Vellotti)
The reasons are varied. Saugatuck is no longer a place of small homes and large families.
The few kids with free time in the summer don’t play baseball in parks. They don’t swing on swings.
No one does, anywhere in Westport — except for the very creative Compo playground, which has sand, water and food nearby.
Seldom-used playground equipment in Luciano Park. (Photo/JP Vellotti)
I was reminded of all this after receiving an email and photos from alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti. Walking through Luciano Park at 12:30 last Friday afternoon, without a soul in sight, he thought: “If there is a park in Westport that needs a master plan, this is it!”
As Westport thinks about its future, let’s give this park some thought. It need not only be for kids. Hundreds, maybe more, quite literally ‘park’ nearby every day.
Could this be a quiet place to sit before or after work? Why not add a fitness station as an alternative to the gym?
Good questions, all. And as Railroad Place prepares for the next stage of Saugatuck’s redevelopment, and residents throughout town ponder both Compo Beach and downtown improvements, why not add this tiny, valuable parcel into the planning mix?
Word on the street is that the Saugatuck fire station may move down the street.
The Riverside Avenue firehouse — located between Bridge Square and The Whelk, which looks like it’s been there since horses pulled fire wagons — is being considered for relocation a few yards north, near the VFW.
But — contrary to the fears of some local residents — the new site is not the small Riverside Park.
It’s 427 Riverside Avenue, next door. The town owns that vacant lot.
In fact, says Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, the parcel was purchased in the 1970s with the intention of building a new fire station there. Instead, an addition was built at the current site.
Kingsbury would love the Saugatuck firehouse to remain where it is, on the river across from Phase II of the Gault redevelopment. “It’s a real cool place,” he says.
But it’s not deep enough for modern vehicles. Plus, it’s in a flood zone. During Hurricane Sandy, firefighters built a berm to protect generators and equipment. Still, the station suffered $15,000 damage.
The vacant lot at 427 Riverside Avenue.
Kingsbury says the town engineer has looked at the vacant lot at 427 Riverside. However, he notes, “we haven’t really started the process yet.”
That has not stopped area residents from creating a website: “Save Riverside Park.” The site warns of the destruction of “an oasis for Westport residents.”
Presumably that won’t happen if the firehouse is built not at the park, but next door. However, concerns about increased noise and “traffic pollution” would no doubt remain.
The website offers an alternative: Luciano Park.
I’m not so sure. That’s been an important (and green) part of Saugatuck since the turn of the century — the 20th century.
Luciano Park is home to a playground and softball field. It was also the site of the long-running Italian Festival, and a short-lived antiques market.
The website points to Luciano Park’s proximity to I-95 — a frequent destination for fire calls — as one more reason to put the station there. I’d argue that the added distance from Riverside Avenue — especially to the southbound entrance ramp — is negligible.
If all this sounds as if I’m pro-firehouse-at-427 Riverside: I’m not. But I would not want to see it at Luciano Park, either.
What I would like to see is a robust discussion of the future of the Saugatuck fire station. Click “Comments” to add your thoughts. Remember: please use your real, full name. And it would help to add where you live, so we can better understand where you are coming from.
The situation at Luciano Park — near the railroad station — might be tougher than other spots, though.
In addition to receiving tons of plowed snow, it was also badly damaged last fall, when Sunday flea market vendors drove on the grass in a downpour. The flea market folks were going to pay for repairs, but “06880” readers say they have not yet been done.
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