Did the Brass Compass save downtown Rockland?
Because I am an amateur local historian, I always want to put things in perspective, so here are a few of my thoughts about issues surrounding Winslow-Holbrook Park.
Brass Compass has leased space in this park since 2005. In spite of many varied issues and complaints during that time, only once did the problems rise to the level where the City Council had to intervene. That incident involved serving alcohol and was settled at a hearing before the council. Other issues about whether the Compass was staying inside the allotted space or whether the Compass was welcoming members of the public to its tables were alleged but never proven and never considered by the council.
It is essential to remember that, because in this country we consider everyone innocent until proven guilty — and this issue is about the park, not the person.
In 2009, the City Council adopted a concept plan to improve the park. At that time, the council decided to name the park for Winslow and Holbrook and to provide other public amenities and changes in layout. At that time, the council reiterated to Ms. Archer that use of the park by the Brass Compass must be considered as one year at a time and that once the park was finished the Compass might not be able to provide service or keep private tables for customers only. Plans also included sculpture in the park and the possibility of music at lunchtime in the summer. Since 2009 the Brass Compass has been allowed to continue to place tables in the park and progress on the planned improvements has been very slow but — this issue too is about the park, and not the person.
Much to the City Council’s confusion, it was presented with a petition in April that requested that the park not be leased to a single restaurant for a low fee. The petition was signed by about 35 business owners including the owners of 20 eating establishments on or near Main Street in Rockland. The petition asked the council for a chance to discuss the issue. That issue immediately turned nasty with accusations of envy and greed matched up to charges of private agendas and anti-business sentiments. All of that was pure hogwash on both sides. Rockland city councilors do the best they can to hear all sides (and don’t forget the perspectives of the veterans and the relatives of Winslow and Holbrook) and to decide issues in a way that is sensitive to all concerned and will help move Rockland forward in challenging times. I saw no private or personal agendas. What I did see was bullying. Not on the part of Ms. Archer or councilors, but by overzealous supporters of one side or the other.
And that is never progressive or productive. So this was an issue that became about the people, but should have been about the park not the person.
Lynn Archer should be thanked for helping Winslow-Holbrook Park evolve into a welcoming space where people can enjoy food and companionship outside near a restaurant. There are several other restaurants nearby from which people might bring food to her tables and enjoy that same privilege. When the plans for the park are ready as they have been altered to suit the installation of a memorial to Winslow and Holbrook, then how we will go forward with tables in the park must be decided again. Lynn led a movement toward more outside seating that has spread along Main Street to many other businesses. It looks great and helps welcome people to Rockland.
When I was first elected to the City Council in 2000, tables on sidewalks were actively discouraged by councilors. I worked to change the regulations and to allow outdoor seating. The pioneers of this type of outdoor seating were Patrick and Susanne of Second Read. They would put out a couple small tables and a city councilor would call for enforcement to get them taken away. That was not business friendly — but we have come a long way.
I also remember a councilor stating at a planning workshop that he hated trees on Main Street. I love trees and worked for years to help protect the two trees in front of my business further up the street. So while I have your attention, let me say I was not involved in the decision to cut a tree in Winslow-Holbrook Park. The tree warden and our Parks Commission decided what was best for all the trees in the park and which tree should be cut. — That too was about the park, not the person.
Rockland is a progressing small city with a surviving downtown in a challenging economy. All of us need to try to work better together with the benefit of the community in mind. Did the Brass Compass save downtown Rockland? Of course it did, but so did the Farnsworth, the Grasshopper, the Reading Corner, Bricks, Rock City, Café Miranda, Planet Toys and so many other businesses and people who have worked for 20 years to keep our downtown surviving and strong. What has happened in Winslow-Holbrook Park is not a sign of weakness as much as it is of strength. It is more a matter of success than it is of failure and remember —
It is all about the park, and it is all about all the people.
Mayor Brian Harden can be reached at email@example.com. Editor's note: Emphasis is the mayor's.