Outdoor dining has taken off in Greenport Village since Phase Two of reopening began in June, but a proposal by the Business Improvement District to expand those efforts has hit a dead end.
In a letter to village officials Thursday, BID president Rich Vandenburgh renewed the organization’s request to close Front Street at First Street entirely to traffic from Friday to Sunday.
Though the village did a trial run of the two-lane closure on July Fourth weekend, village officials ultimately agreed to leave one-way traffic open westbound, detouring eastbound vehicles at First Street. The added lane has created additional space for pedestrians and “parklets” to be installed.
Mr. Vandenburgh said Friday that so far, the installation of “parklets” throughout the village have been well-received and inspired other municipalities to reach out and recreate the idea in their downtown areas. “[The parklets] are super valuable,” Mr. Vandenburgh said.
While appreciative of the one-way closure, he still believes closure of both lanes in order to give both merchants and pedestrians space to spread out, rather than be confined to the sidewalks.
“It makes it tough to create that social distancing space if they’re all heel to heel down the sidewalk,” he said.
At a work session meeting Thursday, trustee Peter Clarke pointed to a potential pedestrian hazard created by the setup. “I am concerned about the situation that we have [created], albeit with good intentions and with everyone’s best interest at heart,” Mr. Clarke said. “Either closure should be done of that one block for safety or there has to be a different and more comprehensive way to message how to use that block.”
More regular, total road closures were not favored by first responders, who say the placement of cement barriers could prevent them from accessing key points downtown in case of an emergency.
Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said the village would not be able to pull off the closures because the logistics aren’t “workable.”
He also cited pushback from some business owners farther west on Front Street and north on Main Street who feel it could slow business even more as they try to bounce back from the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Let them enjoy the parklets and keep the road one-way and ride it out,” Mr. Hubbard said. “That’s my view on it. It looks good downtown. We’ve done as much as we possibly can.”
Mr. Hubbard said the one-way setup would remain seven days a week through October.
In his letter to the board, Mr. Vandenburgh argued that the small block between First and Main streets has the highest concentration of retail and restaurants in the heart of the village and closing the road will better protect pedestrians. He said he was willing to work with village officials and first responders on a solution to access as well.
In response to comments that the plan excludes certain businesses, Mr. Vandenburgh pointed to the west end of Front Street, which has hotels, the liquor store and post office, which may not be willing to cede their parking and might not benefit from the extended closure.
But Dan Pennessi of the Menhaden hotel and Demarchelier Restaurant at 207 Front Street disputed that claim in an email to trustees.
“The argument that the village should cease consideration of the closure of more of Front Street in order to enable the [Front Street Block] to be closed is inapposite,” Mr. Pennessi wrote. “The two are not mutually exclusive.”
While he praised the village and BID’s response to business, resident and visitor needs amid the pandemic, he said in an interview Friday that more could be done to build on that success.
During a trial run of the road closure, he walked down to the area with his wife and described it as an “irreplaceable” experience. “There were families eating outside, people taking walks, on dates. It was just nice,” he said. “There’s no reason it couldn’t have expanded to Third Street.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Pennessi sent a letter to village trustees outlining his vision for closing more of Front Street. He called for allowing a single lane of eastbound traffic to proceed in the middle of the road in order to provide access to the Harborfront Hotel and post office. Traffic would then continue to be detoured at First Street.
“To us, it was more than just additional revenue that may have been generated by getting a couple more tables outside,” he said. “I think Greenport is ripe for this kind of use of public assets, because it’s a general feeling and gives people more room.”
Mr. Vandenburgh acknowledged that there’s no perfect solution but urged continued effort. “We’ve only got seven weekends and after this weekend, six weekends left in the season,” he said. “It’s a miss by our leaders to take a position that there will be no other efforts to create more space in the downtown.”