New park to open in downtown Niantic on Saturday

East Lyme — Community members have long discussed improving the small parcel of land at the intersection of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a site that greets people as they come to downtown Niantic and offers views of the water, local officials said.

Now, eight years after residents approved buying the 0.3-acre former Mobil gas station property, and two years after the town officially purchased it, a park stands there.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new park will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, which also is Celebrate East Lyme Day.

The park, with a semi-circle platform, benches, a granite "Welcome to Niantic" sign and views of Niantic Bay, will serve as a gathering spot for the community, a place for people to reflect and potentially a site for performances or presentations, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said.

The site also ties in to the town's history, he said. The view that people see as they drive into town is the same one, though now improved, that the people in the past who helped grow the town and its beach communities saw as they arrived at the former train station there.

"On that very spot for decades, people arrived to Niantic by train and got off at the train station right there," he said.

A Parks and Recreation subcommittee, with representatives from the town and community groups, including Niantic Main Street, East Lyme Public Trust Foundation, Niantic Lions Club and Rotary Club, worked on the design of the park, he said. Bill Scheer, the town's deputy director of public works, served as the general contractor for the project.

East Lyme Parks and Recreation Director David Putnam said the park was designed to be in keeping with the character of other improvements to Main Street, including improved lighting, curbing and tree plantings, and to serve as a welcoming showpiece for Niantic with open views of the bay.

"I think it's going to be a great addition to Main Street," he said. "The improvements down there have been tremendous, and this is another example of the town coming together and making the town better."

The town funded the development of the park using leftover money appropriated for the purchase of the property and Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant funding, he said. The town used some money from a brownfield assessment grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to help clean up the former gas station site, he said.

People also sponsored engraved bricks, through the Niantic Main Street organization, to fund the park, and the East Lyme Public Trust donated benches, according to a news release.

"The East Lyme Public Trust Foundation was honored to be able to donate the benches for this beautiful addition to East Lyme," said June Hoye, publicity chair for East Lyme Public Trust Foundation. "We know that it will improve the gateway to our charming village."

Joe Legg, president of the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation, said, "A welcoming open space in that location has been a vision of people in East Lyme for years. The Park is a further compliment to many of the town’s attractive features, such as the Boardwalk, the Bay, the river, hiking trails and beaches that make Niantic and East Lyme such a great place to live and visit."

“The park perfectly highlights Niantic’s waterfront Main Street," Niantic Main Street President Dan Walsh said. "Its location is key to welcoming visitors to our beachfront community with a view of the bay. We are thrilled to see the park built and glad we could help support the work.”

Nickerson said the town appreciates and is grateful for its parks, open space, downtown, beaches, boardwalk and facilities, and the new park will add to this sense of place.

"I think this spot will be one of those spots where people will reflect and remember East Lyme," he said.

 k.drelich@theday.com

If you go

What: Ribbon-cutting for new park, held by the town, Niantic Main Street and East Lyme Public Trust Foundation

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, July 21

Where: Park at Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Niantic

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