Story and Photographs By John Murray
A $2 million overhaul of the Green in downtown Waterbury was unveiled in early Autumn without a Christmas tree, and the backlash from the community has been fierce. The traditional tree lighting ceremony was moved to Library Park last year during renovations, and lights were wrapped around an oak tree. City residents understood the temporary relocation in 2016, but have balked at the tradition switching to Library Park permamently. Residents have complained on WATR radio, called the Mayor's Office to express their displeasure, and used social media to express their anger.
"This is so wrong," Hilda Del Moral-Lopez wrote on Facebook. "It makes me very sad."
Irene Florio Canciani wrote, "This is a dirty, rotten shame. Having it in Library Park could never hold a candle to how beautiful it was on the green. Whose bright idea was this? I thought having it in Library Park last year was just temporary."
Residents bemoaned the loss of tradition, and the isolation of Library Park as a venue. Grace Cortezzo asked, "Why would they not put a tree on that beautiful green. It's a shame they spent all that money and then not use the Green for Christmas. The Waterbury Green at Christmas time was always the best. Library Park is ridiculous."
Bill Lawton asked, "We have this new Green, and the tree is at Library Park?"
Days before the Green was opened to the public in September, Waterbury Parks Superintendent Mark Lombardo took the Observer on a tour of the upgrades and said, "The old Christmas tree was diseased and we had to remove it. We held off on replacing it to find out how the public felt about putting up a new Christmas tree."
As the holiday season unfolded and there was no tree in the middle of the Green, the answer came with the fury of a lightning bolt - Waterbury wants it's Christmas tree on the Green. Calls to Mark Lombardo were referred to Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary, who addressed the issue during an interview inside City Hall on December 20th.
"I pride myself on listening to the public and I have heard their voices," he said. "Next year we will have a Christmas tree on the Green in downtown Waterbury, and we will have a second tree in Library Park as well. We will have two Christmas trees."
Mayor O'Leary attended a city planning symposium in Pittsburgh five years ago and was advised by a panel of experts that Waterbury's Library Park was an underutilzed gem in the city. The panel suggested using Library Park for more city festivals and community events, and O'Leary has embraced the idea with The Gathering, and other ethnic festivals being staged there. O'Leary also plans to rennovate Library Park in 2018 with upgrades that will make the park better equipped to handle large community events.
A community Christmas tree has stood on the Green for decades.
"We can put a Christmas tree on the Green but I still want to explore the idea of having a tree lighting ceremony in Library Park," O'Leary said. "The park has better parking, bathrooms, and a stage to use for a ceremony. We'll get a Christmas tree on the Green this Spring, but I want to continue a conversation about where to best have a community tree lighting ceremony. I still like Library Park."