Greenport’s parklets plan celebrated as a pandemic success story

“It’s like a dream come true,” said former Greenport Mayor Dave Kapell as he looked out at tables filled with diners on Front Street Friday afternoon. 

Since Memorial Day weekend the Village has used “parklets” on what was formerly parking spaces on the side of Front and parts of Main Street.

On Friday, village officials and others deemed the concept a success story. 

Parklets contain tables and chairs to act as an extension of the sidewalk and also protect patrons from traffic. 

Part of the idea behind the parklets was that, since the state cut the indoor capacity of sit-down restaurants in half, they could make up some of the difference with new outdoor seating. The plan also would increase the amount of sidewalk space available.

The parklet plan enabled the village to leverage 51 parking spaces to create an additional 9,000 square feet of outdoor space for al-fresco dining and commercial sales. 

Mr. Kapell and Rich Vandenburgh, co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and president of the Village Business Improvement District, led the effort to use the parklets.

County Executive Steve Bellone (from let), BID president Rich Vandenburgh and Dave Kapell Friday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Mr. Vandenburgh credited the idea to Mr. Kapell, who admits he was a little surprised at how well it worked. 

“It’s such a pipe dream to start with, the whole idea of eliminating parking in the business district,” he said in an interview Friday. “Everyone complains about the lack of parking, and then try to make it happen during the height of a pandemic when people were preoccupied with arguably more important things.”

But he said he worried about what was going to happen to all the businesses in the village if they didn’t receive some help.

“We would have a ghost town,” he said. “I knew we had to do something dramatic.” 

The parklet plan has been in place seven days a week since Memorial Day weekend, and it will remain in place until Columbus Day weekend in October, Mr. Vandenburgh said. 

The plan, he said, is working. 

“Everyone who is utilizing the parklets has said it’s been a tremendous success for them,” Mr. Vandenburgh said in an interview. “They’ve turned a negative season into a positive season.”  

Noah Schwartz of Noah’s restaurant on Front Street said the “additional seating has been beneficial, if not imperative to the success of our business going forward.”

Nearly a dozen officials celebrated the parklets at a press event Friday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. attributed the success to a total team effort with regular early morning meetings and phone calls jumpstarting the plans.

“It took a great showing of camaraderie and of people working together and working together for the common goal of trying to do to salvage businesses,” he said.

Mr. Vandenburgh said companies like Riverhead Business Supply offered reduced prices on the wood and builder Paul Pawlowski and his crew volunteered their time to assemble the parklets in a manner that allows them to be dismantled at the end of the year and stored for potential future use.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Greenport “is one of the truly great and special downtowns across the region and across the state. It’s a place that has enjoyed extraordinary leadership.”

He said the parklets project “was done at the height of the global pandemic, and has provided a model and a pathway to the state.”

SHoP Architects, lead by Bill and Coren Sharples, the firm that designed Mitchell Park in Greenport, was also involved in the project. 

“When Dave Kapell called Coren and I and said ‘We have another challenge would you, be interested in helping us out?’ We didn’t even think about it,” Mr. Sharples said. “This has just been such an amazing experience.”