AYER — Some of us see things that aren’t there — yet.
A bustling Depot Square, with a fountain and park, a destination in its own right, is in Alan Manoian’s eye. The director of community and economic development is working hard to make it happen.
The town needs a focal point, a place where people can meet before dinner or wait for a train or connect with that special person for a first date that will someday lead to marriage, he said.
The urban enthusiast calls it place-based economics. If someone has a good experience, they will be back. As they spend more time they will spend more money. Retail and restaurants will benefit.
“All great New England cities and town have a landmark focal point,” he said. When people relied on trains for transportation, the visual point of interest at the Ayer rail stop was the fountain.
Depot Square will change as a 200-space parking project gets underway. Creating a space for people to gather is part of Manoian’s vision.
A 1967 Edwin E. Bond Memorial USO Building, referred to as the Advocate Building because of its last tenant, is coming down this summer as part of the project. The footprint of the building will become a park with green space, Manoian said. He envisions a vine-covered pergola or arbor.
But, it needs a focal gathering point. People are just not enthusiastic about sitting around in a paved area surrounded by buildings. Something has to draw them there.
History plays a big role in his vision for the park.
Looking through old postcards provided his eureka moment. At some point, an iron fountain or trough that was mounted on a three-foot tall granite block, was in the center of the square.
It was just about where the Medicine Shoppe is now. It might have been hauled off when the building, originally a gas station, went up in 1964.
The sizable, round object in the photo rang a bell. Manoian realized that he drove past it almost every day on his way to and from work.
Filled with red geraniums, it sits on an island of town-owned land just west of the rotary, Carleton Circle. The planter is difficult to see up close, because of traffic.
“It cannot fulfill its purpose in life,” he said. “It’s sort of an orphan looking to go back home.”
Home is Depot Square.
Someone — two women according to a neighbor — plants the flowers. Manoian does not want to take something they enjoy away.
If the fountain makes it over to Depot Square, he would like to install something else in the traffic island that can involve whoever takes care of the planter now.
In addition to providing a spot for residents to get together, an open space anchored by the fountain, or trough, will benefit another group of users.
Commuters don’t look very happy as they wait around for the train. “I literally feel bad for them,” Manoian said.
If everything works the way he would like it to, those commuters, with nothing nice to look at now, will confront something that is visually appealing.
“I can’t even imagine their future joy,” he said.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.