NEW MARKET – The long-awaited, much-anticipated pocket park celebrated its grand opening Monday, the culmination of a years-long effort and relationship between the town and two property owners to bring some green space into the heart of town.
Attorney Jim Weissenborn and local business owner Mark Sweeney had been in talks with the town for years, negotiating a partnership to allow the town to use the slice of green space between their buildings on Main Street.
“We occasionally were contacted by the town or showed up at the town meeting, and it became very clear the piece of land between our two buildings was not serving any purpose,” Sweeney said. “I know throughout the whole process, several things had to happen to let the town do this.”
Weissenborn said the project’s timeline was less important than understanding the mindset of the area.
“Things happen here at an evolutionary pace, not a revolutionary pace,” Weissenborn said. “I tell people that when they come to Strasburg and get off 66, or enter the county, that they need to leave their concepts of time behind. The reason they’re coming here is a certain way of life. We don’t want them to bring their time mindset from where they come from.”
The idea of a pocket park is a simple one. Town Manager Todd Walters said it is a sitting area — a place for someone to stop, take a breath and relax downtown.
“Is it a big draw? Is it going to bring a lot of people? No, I don’t see that,“ Walters said. “I think we’re trying to dress up downtown.”
Weissenborn agreed with Walters, saying streetscaping is “silliness” that it does little to attract new businesses but it improves the quality of life for anyone who is already there to enjoy it. What the park really does, Weissenborn said, is give the town an opportunity to set itself apart from its neighbors. It gives the town a calling card, a memorable, picturesque experience, and place to enjoy the pace of life in New Market.
Giving the town a facelift is something that has been in the works for years, long before Walters came in as the town manager. Sweeney said he and Weissenborn have been in contact with the town and its various leaders for the last six to eight years, trying to work out what everyone wanted and what goals they had in mind.
Until Walters stepped into Town Hall, however, there wasn’t enough momentum to get the project off the ground.
“Jim and I were probably ready to pull the trigger five years ago, and they just never really got there,” Sweeney said. “My sense was Todd was the one that probably ignited the flame that got this thing done.”
Walters said he doesn’t think he played a very large role in the project, that activities like Sweeney renovating the Henkel Press sign on his building were more integral in getting the job done.
Weissenborn said part of the hold-up was his own doing. He said he sat on the easement until he thought the town was ready to act.
“It’s one thing to talk about something,” Weissenborn said. “It’s another thing to do it. I wasn’t really interested in giving them an easement for them to do something 20 years in the future. I wanted it done now if they were going to do it. I wanted to see it. “
“Not many of us have any particular insight,” Weissenborn said about what the park is there for. “We just hope, I think we all hope, that towns will find some key to become relevant.”