NEWBURYPORT — In a prerecorded Local Pulse broadcast Friday, Mayor Donna Holaday discussed some of the complications that could arise from closing and rerouting downtown streets to make way for outdoor dining at restaurants.
As previously reported, the City Council is considering an order, sponsored by Ward 5 Councilor James McCauley, to temporarily shut down traffic on portions of State and Pleasant streets. Doing so would allow restaurants to use the extra space for expanded outdoor seating.
At its meeting May 11, the council sent the order to its Ad Hoc Committee on Economic Development and Committee of the Whole for further review.
Speaking with Local Pulse host Joe DiBiase on the weekly internet radio show, Holaday said a lot of details would need to be worked out before the proposal could be put into place.
“Each restaurant has unique needs and spaces, but we’re willing to work with any restaurant about how they could potentially expand outdoor dining,” she said.
Not all restaurants have outdoor seating, so it would take time to work with those spaces to determine specific needs and how they would acquire tables and other supplies, she said.
The Grog, for example, doesn’t have outdoor seating, but it does have a parking lot, which Holaday suggested it could consider using for seating space. She also noted that Brick & Ash, which has limited outdoor seating, might consider expanding into its parking lot as well.
At least one restaurant said it would not be worth opening unless it could seat at least 70% of its capacity, according to Holaday.
The city would also have to look at liquor licenses and how those would be different with expanded outdoor seating. Holaday said Councilor at large Joe Devlin, through his law practice, is working with the city and the state to see if there are ways to relax some of the stricter laws regarding alcohol.
“If we could move and expand into the street, would we also be able to expand serving alcohol?” Holaday said. “Because I think that’s key for people to succeed, too, in terms of revenue for restaurants.
“We also have to be sensitive to the fact that some restaurants have really been able to just barely survive by doing the grab-and-go and we can’t block off that access, either,” she added.
Blocking off parts of streets and changing the flow of traffic won’t come easy, either, she said, adding that it takes people long enough to get used to permanent street changes. For this reason, Holaday said the city couldn’t shut down streets for just a few days a week.
“So, do we do it from July 1 to Sept. 1?” she said. “These are all the kinds of questions we have to answer. There has to be some level of equity as you begin to look at reopening all these restaurants.”
Holaday said the city has to ensure accessibility for restaurants and residents.
“It’s going to be a challenge to work with each of these restaurants to see what they can and what they want to do,” she said. “Certainly, they have to look at what the return and the investment of costs are.”
To listen to the full broadcast, go to www.newburyportnews.com/LocalPulse.
A previous article about the City Council proposal can be found at www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/port-city-council-might-open-downtown-streets-for-restaurant-seating/article_6c69912e-0924-5f13-892b-bdef1a1a6f18.html.