FAIRFIELD – The Fairfield City Council has approved a plan to install eight picnic tables in Central Park.
The council approved the project on a 4-3 vote, with council members Michael Halley, Katy Anderson, Tom Twohill and Paul Gandy voting for, while Doug Flournoy, Martha Rasmussen and Judy Ham voted against it.
Halley has spearheaded the idea of installing tables in the park to make it more inviting to outdoor diners. He has pursued the idea since joining the council in 2010 and came close to enacting his vision in 2017. That year, the council voted down the idea of installing tables in the park on a 4-3 vote.
Why did Halley think the result of the vote would be different in 2020 when he brought the issue before the council?
“COVID-19,” he replied.
Halley said the coronavirus has pushed people out of restaurants, which were operating as carry-out only for a few months, and toward outdoor dining. That has led to, in Halley’s words, “an exponential increase” in the number of people seeking to eat in Central Park.
He said residents approached him about bringing back the idea of adding picnic tables to the council. Otherwise, he would have been content to move on from the issue.
After the failed vote on adding permanent picnic tables in 2017, residents approached the Fairfield Park and Rec Board about adding temporary picnic tables to Central Park. The board agreed and set up two picnic tables and chained them to nearby trees. Halley said this experiment is in its third year and has been going well. The main problem with it is that it doesn’t look good to have tables chained to trees, and there aren’t enough tables to accommodate the number of people who want to eat in the park.
Halley said one of the major fears of encouraging dining in Central Park is that it would become filled with trash. He said that has not happened with the temporary picnic tables. He said residents have been good about putting their trash in trash bins, and even when the bins are full, people have been putting their trash in a bag next to the bin.
“This idea that people are slobs and throw trash everywhere is not true,” Halley said.
This most recent proposal for permanent picnic tables differs somewhat from Halley’s pitch in 2017. The 2020 proposal calls for eight tables, two of which will be accessible to wheelchairs. Instead of putting them on a concrete surface as proposed three years ago, the new design calls for the tables to be installed on bricks just like those in the crosswalks.
Terry Baker, director of the Fairfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, has supported the project. She said there’s great value from a tourism perspective in creating a lively downtown.
“We’ve noticed from our tourism assessment that sometimes our downtown looks a little dead, that there aren’t many people walking around,” Baker said. “We know that when someone comes to town, they want to see where the locals are hanging out. If they don’t see locals hanging out in the park, they start to wonder what’s wrong with the town.”
Baker said she loved the idea of adding tables to Central Park because it will attract more people to the park and thereby signal to visitors that “this is a desirable place to be.”
The estimated cost of the project is just over $69,000, though Halley said the amount needing to be fundraised will be closer to $40,000 or $50,000. Those who wish to make a donation to the project may contact Fairfield Park and Recreation Director Calvin Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Halley said the tables will be installed as soon as the money for them is raised.