The site of much controversy could become the scene of considerable conviviality.

The site of much controversy could become the scene of considerable conviviality.

A program called "First Thursdays" began earlier this month at Portal Park, sometimes called Clintonville Park, and will return on Oct. 7 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. with people invited to participate in such seasonally appropriate activities as drinking some cider and carving pumpkins.

Another type of drinking entirely, that of pounding down 40-ouncers and cheap wine by homeless people who spend a great deal of their time in the park that contains the "Welcome to Clintonville" sign, has been the cause of much divisive debate of late.

The message from First Thursdays organizer Jenny Bell, owner of Cowbell Design Services in Old North Columbus:

Take a chill pill.

"Basically we're just trying to get some activity in the park," Bell said.

Make that, some activity that won't draw the ire of business owners and residents, such as vagrants openly consuming alcohol and relieving themselves at the .15-acre park, which was built in 1982 with funds raised by the Clintonville Area Commission but which is technically within the University District.

Although she's only lived in the vicinity of the tiny park for two years, Bell said that she is aware of the ongoing controversy over "who it belongs to and who takes care of it, between the university district and the Clintonville area."

"And who cares, really? Let's all enjoy it," Bell said.

The initial First Thursdays event involved Sue Wightman Angus of Clintonville, an Ohio State University instructor who leads volunteers in maintaining plantings are the park, offering people pointers on pruning the flowers for the fall.

"This one will be a lot more social," Bell said. "We're trying to get people in the park."

A certain kind of people being in the park is what has created some ill feelings on either side of the Clintonville-Old North Columbus dividing line.

The issue of homeless people occupying Portal Park, which has threatened to come to a boil of late, began percolating a little over a year ago when Ian McConnell, a member of the University District Commission, proposed removing the benches that were serving as beds for men and women sleeping of daytime consumption of beer and wine.

Clintonville Area Commission members D Searcy and Mike McLaughlin expressed disappointment that someone would presume to resolve such an issue in such a way and without consulting Clintonville people, who not only built the park but also maintain its landscaping with the help of Wightman Angus and other volunteers.

This past January, Searcy told fellow CAC members that Recreation and Parks Department director Alan McKnight, who served as master of ceremonies for Portal Park's dedication 28 years ago, had agreed to mediate the issue of control of the site between the two area commissions.

Earlier this month, CAC chairman John DeFourny sought support for a resolution limiting the hours at Portal Park to between sunrise and sunset. That led to a wide-ranging, sometimes heated discussion about whether the homeless who congregate there should be helped or herded away. Dave Southan of District 7, the safety liaison, called them "bums" and offered a laundry list of times police have been called to the park in recent weeks.

"First Thursdays is a joint project by Clintonville and Old North neighbors," Jenny Bell wrote in an e-mail announcing the Oct. 7 event. "The idea is that we should be making use of the very cool Portal Park at the corner of Arcadia and High streets. By making more use of the park, we are hoping to make the park more family-and pet-friendly."

"Which I think is kind of fun," McLaughlin, who represents District 1 on the CAC, said. "It gets use out of the park. I think the more the neighborhood actually uses a park, the more it becomes a neighborhood park.

"It's just going to be fun."

It's also, he said, a chance for people on either side of the recent debate to bridge their differences.

"The thing is we didn't know the folks living on the other side," McLaughlin said. "Now that we're meeting with them and working on this, we'll get to know each other, and reaching out and working together on projects will be easier because relationships will have been established."

"I think it will be really cool to get to know people on the other side of the forest." Bell said. "It's really just an opportunity to get people together."

Bell added that First Thursdays are here to stay. "The plan is to go ahead and do it will year round."