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Taunton Daily Gazette, by Charles Winokoor

Demolished Taunton park on verge of a new life

June 22, 2018

TAUNTON — A plan is in the works to transform the now-demolished Liberty and Union Park downtown into a showcase for music, arts and entertainment.

The former small public park at 80-86 Main St. — which opened in 1980 and was rededicated four years later in memory of Taunton native and Medal of Honor recipient Richard David DeWert, killed in action in North Korea — was razed in October 2016.

City officials retired the long, narrow, split-level design plaza, with its stone chairs and tables, some of them with chessboard surfaces, after years of deterioration. It also had become a hangout for homeless people and others who drank and took drugs.

Now with grant-program assistance from MassDevelopment — the nonprofit agency that has played a major role in transforming the old Paul A. Dever State School into a business park within Myles Standish Industrial Park — the city is looking at an opportunity to revitalize the unused open space.

MassDevelopment already has provided $45,000 in technical assistance by hiring and paying for the services of both RKG Associates and OverUnder, an architectural and design firm, to lay the groundwork for the re-use project, according to Amanda Chisholm, vice president of real estate services at MassDevelopment.

Colleen Simmons, director of Taunton’s nonprofit Business Improvement District and Downtown Taunton Foundation, said a plan has nearly been completed with input from members of her two boards; Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr.; economic and community development director Kevin Shea; and Marilyn Greene, director of Taunton’s Department of Parks, Cemeteries and Public Places.

A public hearing that included Chisholm was held on May 30 at the Trescott Gallery on Trescott Street.

The final version of the city’s plan, which Simmons says includes a conceptual illustration and is 95 percent complete, will be presented to MassDevelopment in order to compete in Commonwealth Places. That statewide program provides a dollar-for-dollar match to qualifying municipalities that raise money by means of a crowdfunding platform, like a GoFundMe page.

Simmons said she envisions a reborn Liberty and Union Park being used during the warmer months for weekly live music and occasional movie nights.

Other activities, she said, could include Zumba and yoga classes.

It won’t happen overnight: Simmons said she’s optimistic it will be open to the public by next July.

She said the new park/entertainment space will benefit from extensive lighting that will create a safe and clearly visible space.

Simmons also anticipates that a movable stage, portable furniture and café seating will be part of the project.

The redeveloped site, she said, will give visitors a chance to stroll downtown and patronize local businesses.

Simmons said a sign with an image of the future park will be erected to show what it will eventually look like.