WESTFIELD, NJ — If you’ve recently walked down Elm Street then you may have noticed a new addition to the sidewalk. Just before the crosswalk at Quimby and Elm there is a parklet — a temporary extension from the curb to the street that can be used for additional public space. Adding parklets was one of the suggestions made by the Mayor's Downtown Task Force in April.
“We’ve been advocating for this since 2014 as a means of driving additional economic commerce downtown and extending the sidewalks,” Sherry Cronin, executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation, said.
The program is managed by Craig Gibson, Department of Public Works Downtown Business District supervisor, and was launched in alignment with the outdoor “café season,” according to the DWC. Eliminating just one parking space, the objective of the structure is to create more useable public space. The town plans to evaluate the benefits of this temporary structure and its use for additional seating for diners, art installations and even a bandstand during downtown events.
“That area was chosen because we’ve long gotten comments about how crowded that sidewalk gets with sidewalk dining,” said Cronin. “We only needed to take one parking spot — we thought this was a good place to start.”
The DPW was tasked with the job of installing the structure, which designed to be temporary and easy to assemble and deconstruct. The parklet is designed with high quality materials that ensure its stability even on an uneven surface. The end caps are made out of two retired cement garbage cans to protect parklet guests from vehicles parking in the spots adjacent to the structure, according to Cronin.
“We needed something to freshen it up — a nice little spark to downtown,” said Robert Scalera, owner of Theresa’s and Mojave Grill. While the parklet is entirely a town initiative and is not formally affiliated with any local businesses, Scalera was encouraged to put out additional seating on the structure that is positioned just outside one of his restaurants.
Scalera was hopeful that it might be a nice boost for his business, which he said has not been the same since 2008. He guessed that sales are down about 25 percent compared to pre-2008 numbers.
“I think they are awesome,” said Westfield resident Rebecca Reissman as she checked out the new parklet Friday. “I’m more likely to eat in a place with better outdoor dining space.”
The DWC plans to evaluate this parklet's use this summer to determine if additional parklets could benefit the town.
“This downtown is a living, breathing thing and we really have to take care of it. Certainly there is always more to do,” Cronin said. “If it works well, I suspect that there will be more.”
Cronin thanked the town of Westfield, Mayor Andy Skibitsky, members of the town council, administration, DPW and Westfield Police Department for moving the pilot project forward.
“Special thanks to Craig Gibson, DPW Downtown Business District supervisor, for managing the parklet project and for the dedicated crew, including Rock Stewart, Vinny Brody, Eugene Watkins, Omar Lucas and Terrance Bryant,” she said.