2013-11-01 / Letters

Pavilion plan requires careful research

To the editor:

Kennebunk is rightfully grateful for the generous grant from the Waterhouse Family that provides the town with a unique opportunity to serve the youth as well as the rest of the community. But as proposed, while the skating rink pavilion at the 51 Main St. vacant lot is admirable, it would not go far enough in preserving the plaza-like atmosphere nor the downtown’s historic character that certainly must have been foremost in many of the voter’s minds who approved the town’s taking ownership of the parcel.

Since the former gas station was removed the vacant parcel at 51 Main St. along with the town parking area to the rear has become the true center of the town’s community. Go any Saturday morning in the summer or fall to see the bustling but relaxed farmer’s market or any number of Wednesdays or to town parades and other events to see the artisans and other vendors arrayed there, or a winter day to see the ice-skating. This is no lucky coincidence. Four-sided open spaces in the middle of towns are designed to function as central gathering places for communities. It is no mistake that the classic Latin American town plaza has endured for so long in such a community sustaining way. So too some classic New England village greens, the central square, accomplishes the same community sustainability.

The Latin American town plaza was, in fact, mandated by law and was to include the church on one side, governmental buildings on another, commercial buildings and arcades on another and usually some grand residences sometimes including hotels on the fourth side. So too are some classic New England town squares.

The central plaza or central square brings together the four core elements of community: the spiritual, governmental, mercantile and the residential/social/ recreational.

No wonder humanity has not come up with a better urban model.

51 Main Street should be called what it is, Kennebunk’s central plaza. Along with the municipal parking area, it has a hotel/restaurant on one side, Kennebunk Inn; commercial activity on the side across Main Street; a church one parcel removed on the north side.

Government buildings, the town hall complex is a short walk up Main Street. So while not exactly classic, all the key elements are in place nearby that contribute to the Kennebunk Plaza being the self-sustaining center of the community it has become.

The Waterhouse Pavillion responds generously to the recreational and social aspects of Kennebunk’s plaza, but it is only part of what the plaza should and could be.

The proposed Waterhouse pavilion, even open sided as preliminarily designed would, however, close off the four-sided plaza by visually obscuring the open space from Main Street. This would return Main Street to a linear passageway and take away our visual connection to the plaza. Motorists going by would not see the plaza and continue without stopping in sharp contrast to the existing inducement of visiting the currently very visible farmer’s market and other plaza activities.

There is a way, however, to preserve the plaza by re-positioning the pavilion along the north side of the open space as an arcade. Possibly both sides could have an arcade, but cooperation with the Kennebunk Inn on a possible southside arcade would be the responsible way to proceed.

One or two sideline arcades would keep the visual connection between Main Street and the Farmer’s Market and other community activities, including winter iceskating, and continue enticing people to stop, get out of their cars, observe and join in.

The Waterhouse proposal of operating the ice rink during winter, but closing it off for summer is a great idea. But it seems the sole purpose of the proposed Waterhouse covered rink is to affect some modest savings from snow removal cost. Even the famous ice-skating rink in Rockefeller Center is open to the sky and to spectators, who are drawn to it all winter precisely because the skaters are so visible.

With respect to rain during the spring, summer or fall, every vendor at the farmers market and many of the crafts people always set up underneath their own portable tents. The proposed pavilion, therefore, would not be needed for nonwinter rain protection.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages for a pavilion covered iceskating rink in comparison to an open plaza with side arcades and uncovered iceskating rink.

Pavilion covered ice-skating rink

Advantages: modest saving of not having to shovel snow off rink; modest saving of not having winter rain melt the rink ice; Spring, summer and fall covered pavilion for some events.

Disadvantages: closes off plaza; removes the central community meeting space; reduces the visibility of the farmer’s market and other community events and activities taking place behind the pavilion thus rendering them less successful, possibly impossible.

The pavilion is for only ice-skating, all other plaza activities can be well done outdoors.

Open plaza with side arcades

Advantages: keeps plaza open as large central community open space; maintains visual connection between Main Street and the plaza; provides covered arcades on one or both sides of the plaza for shelter all year-round; supports the continuing viability of the farmers market, the craft fairs and other activities and events that take place in the plaza; except for ice-skating, all plaza events take place outdoors from spring to fall during warmer weather; individual vendor tents is the norm and protects from rain.

Disadvantage: modestly higher cost for wintertime snow removal from ice-skating rink; modestly higher energy cost for refreezing ice after winter rainfall; arcades on one or both sides of the plaza may have lesser total capacity to cover audiences during events than under a larger singlespan pavilion; But shows during warm weather usually provide their own tents for the performers.

The town by the generous Waterhouse Youth Endowment Program donation has been given the unique opportunity to do something really important for both youth and adults at the 51 Main St. property right in the middle of our community.

We should not shortchange this responsibility given to us for doing something really meaningful for our central plaza. Once started down the right design path, one can imagine improvements over time as funding may become available, such as special cobblestone or other pavers on the back parking area, perhaps an appropriately placed fountain or sculpture or other improvements. Let’s not close off these possibilities for the future.

Anthony Dater

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