City opens new venue

Published 8:47 pm Thursday, February 2, 2012

Whitney Brennan reads a book about groundhogs to preschool students at the city’s Groundhog Day celebration at the new special events pavilion behind the Visitor Center on Thursday morning.

Punxsutawney Phil may not have made a personal visit to Suffolk yesterday, but there was still plenty of excitement about Groundhog Day.

The city christened its new special-events venue, an open-air pavilion behind the Visitor Center, by hosting a Groundhog Day celebration for young children on Thursday morning. Several daycare facilities, parents and babysitters brought their charges to enjoy groundhog-related crafts, storytelling, a puppet show, a petting zoo and other activities.

“I’m excited,” said City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, who attended the event. “It’s a great way to open this venue up for our citizens.”

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The facility was estimated to cost about $200,000. The money was allocated in September from a pool of funds left over from other capital projects.

Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said at the time that a venue near the city’s busiest intersection would be more visible and have more amenities than Market Park, which is several blocks away. The city formerly used that location for events such as the farmers’ market and the Grand Illumination that kicks off the Christmas season.

The new venue includes the sheltered pavilion, a fence along nearby East Constance Road for safety, access to the restrooms inside the Visitor Center and a statue of Mr. Peanut — none of which is available at Market Park.

“I found it by accident,” Mariane Inglis said on Thursday while watching her 2-year-old son Jacob play with modeling clay. “I was driving by. It’s a really great place.”

The children at Thursday’s event constructed buildings from big foam blocks, colored Groundhog Day pictures, made a craft that featured a paper groundhog popping out of a green cup and more.

“We really wanted to get out and do something with our children,” Cuffee-Glenn said.