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City kicks off 'Lunch in the Park' program

MANCHESTER — Mayor Ted Gatsas said police have done a good job at making Veterans Memorial Park a safer and more inviting place to visit than a year ago.

“I know coming and having lunch in Veterans Park is a lot different today than it was a year ago because a year ago you wouldn’t have dared walking through,” Gatsas said Thursday in kicking off the “Lunch in the Park” program, which invites people to take their Thursday lunch hour at the Elm Street park between noon and 2 p.m. through Aug. 28.

“Certainly, people have been commenting about how much better it is downtown and how much more secure they feel,” the mayor said.

Police Chief David Mara, in an interview at the park, said his department is focusing more attention on downtown, which includes two more officers assigned there compared to last summer.

He said officers “really made it clear unlawful conduct was not going to be tolerated,” including people drinking alcohol or doing illegal drugs.

Police also are working more within the community.Downtown officers are walking routes, including Mara himself along Elm Street on Wednesday, with officers providing cellphone numbers to business owners to call police with questions or concerns.

“Officers are going into businesses, getting to know everybody and vice versa,” Mara said. “We are having some pretty good feedback on that.”

Valor, the Manchester police horse, kept watch over about two dozen lunch-goers in the park, including a group from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield attending the event, organized by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s nice to have a place to come to with picnic tables,” said employee Amy Pidhurney.

Co-worker Christie Harris said it was important “to leave your desk, go out for a walk and enjoy the summer. Otherwise, you’d be working.”

People can bring their own lunch or buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sold on-site. Taped music is being played, but live music groups may be added, said Chamber President and CEO Mike Skelton, who called Veterans Park “our gateway to the city” for visitors.

“This is the often the first impression they get of Manchester,” Skelton said.

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