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You’re invited to have Lunch in the Park this summer

MANCHESTER — The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is inviting the city to lunch.

Take a break from the office, enjoy some fresh air and relax in Veterans Park, which the chamber and city officials hope to restore as a downtown asset and destination.

“We’d like to have this become a celebration of all of the residents of the city of Manchester,” Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Robin Comstock said Thursday.

The chamber’s Lunch in the Park initiative begins next Thursday, one of three dates this summer when downtown employees and residents can pick up a boxed lunch from participating eateries and enjoy a break in the park, which could use a bit of an image makeover. Complaints about the park have included safety concerns, panhandling and public urination.

“These concerns are not understated,” Comstock said. “In general, we think there is a decline of good manners and inviting public behavior in the park. The behaviors that our grandmothers taught us are just not being practiced enough. And they are too often ignored.”

The idea is to bring people back to the park, reminding them of the place it can be with a little sprucing up, increased police presence and overall traffic will lead to a turnaround.

“All kinds of (good) things have gone on here and there’s no reason why it can’t continue,” Police chief David Mara said.

About a half-dozen officers stood during Thursday’s announcement, and two of the city’s mounted police were on horseback, as Comstock, Mara and other local representatives talked about rebuilding the reputation of the park.

“Veterans Park is safe. We’re going to make sure that it continues to be safe. we’re not going to let the actions of a few take away from the advantage of having such a great park in the city,” Mara said. “We’re going to be increasing patrols. We want to see people out here. It’s a great resource for the city and we are going to ensure that everybody gets to enjoy this park.”

The other dates for Lunch in the Park are July 18 and Aug. 15, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees can bring their own or pick up a boxed lunch for $8.95 at participating restaurants and the city Parks and Recreation Department.

“In order to break the stereotypes here, I think it’s something we need to promote,” said Parks and Recreation planner Jessica Chambers, who also sits on the Chamber of Commerce Downtown Committee. “I think the Lunch in the Park is a great idea to get people outside, back in the park and enjoying it again.”

The Chamber of Commerce oversees the Manchester Welcome Center located in the northwest corner of the park near the intersection of Elm and Merrimack streets. The park is also home to a large bandstand, where musicians take the stage during Intown Manchester’s summer series of free concerts, but it doesn’t get a lot of use otherwise.

“We need to get our parks utilized on a regular basis by the people who live and work in downtown. The fact that the chamber has now embraced this initiative, we couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Stephanie Lewry, Intown Manchester’s executive director. “Once we get more and more people using this park, there are a lot of ways we can go to make this a great activity center for a lot of people.”

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