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Guest Column: A survival plan for downtown Greenport

Many will recall when Greenport was a place few people wanted to come to, with vacant stores littering Front and Main streets and derelict and burned-out wrecks blighting the residential blocks. Absent bold and swift action, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to return us to the depressed conditions we fought for decades to overcome.

Downtown is Greenport’s beating heart, as well as for surrounding hamlets. It took an enduring community resolve to get us to where we are. The last thing we want now is to lose what we fought so hard to build because we are too timid to take bold common-sense action when it is so desperately and obviously needed.

The challenge is to balance public health with the need to affirmatively confront the existential threat staring down our merchants at a critical point in the seasonal cycle. With sharply reduced occupancy limits expected to be imposed by the state, there is no place for merchants to expand sales outdoors on private property. Their best chance for survival is to expand onto a newly widened public sidewalk, facilitated by the strategic suspension of on-street parking. A wider sidewalk would also promote social distancing. The potentially dangerous sidewalk crowding that we’ve recently witnessed underscores this need.

The decision by the owners of Claudio’s to not open the main restaurant this year is an ominous sign of what’s in store for our merchants, the crucial jobs they provide, and the suppliers and service providers that depend on them. 

Dave Kapell

A sharply lowered speed limit on Route 25 into the village would complement this initiative by encouraging drivers to bypass downtown using Moore’s Lane, or to proceed very slowly. 

The combination of these actions, along with reduced parking, would naturally limit overcrowding and send a loud and clear message that Greenport is firmly committed to protecting public health and will fiercely defend our merchants against impending disaster. 

The Greenport Business Improvement District has proposed exactly these ideas to the Village Board and has taken the lead in developing them and raising money and logistics for their implementation. The idea is to suspend downtown parking on the north side of Front Street and the west side of Main Street and to safely convert the parking lanes into new sidewalk space. The BID also proposes that the NYS Department of Transportation lower the speed limit on Route 25 to 15 mph beginning at Moore’s Lane and extending to the intersection of Main Street with North Road.

The decision by the owners of Claudio’s to not open the main restaurant this year is an ominous sign of what’s in store for our merchants, the crucial jobs they provide, and the suppliers and service providers that depend on them. 

It’s also a threat to the village itself, as commercial and residential property values decline along with the tax base on which village government depends to fund municipal services. 

There is little or no cost to the village to approve the BID plan. All that is needed is for the Village Board to support the plan by suspending the parking and helping the BID shepherd the plan through the DOT, owner of Route 25. The BID proposes to implement the plan with its own and donated resources, supported by a team of dedicated volunteers. 

Communities across the country are doing exactly what the BID is proposing. But getting it done here in time to make a difference is an uphill battle. But it is one that will be well worth fighting if lives and businesses are saved as a result.

The time for bold action in Greenport is right now, before it’s too late.

Mr. Kapell is the former mayor of Greenport.

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