NEWBURYPORT — After the city’s first four-night traffic closure on State Street, Mayor Donna Holaday said she hopes improvements will make for more efficient and aesthetically pleasing outdoor dining.
The closures took place between 4 and 11 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday, and partially shut down traffic on State Street to allow pedestrians to walk freely while opening up outdoor seating for restaurants. A second four-night run of State Street closures will be held this week, also Thursday through Sunday.
The State Street closures were part of an order approved earlier this month by the City Council that also allowed for downtown businesses to apply for licenses to expand their outdoor seating onto public and private land.
Dozens of restaurants and retail stores have been granted licenses, and numerous parking spaces along State Street have been blocked off with Jersey barriers so the spaces can be used for seating. The licenses last until Nov. 1.
“Overall, I've heard people have done well,” Holaday said. “I think the restaurants have been doing a good job following protocols. Absolute compliance with the guidelines is critical because this is what's going to build confidence and let people come back to our restaurants. So far, we’re off to a good start.”
On Monday, restaurants across the state were allowed to seat customers indoors with restrictions and social distancing measures, though the mayor acknowledged most local residents seem to still prefer outdoor dining in public.
While Holaday said the outdoor seating has received mostly positive feedback, she said there are ways the city can make improvements.
“The most important thing was to get the city open and get the restaurants serving outside. We had to move to get things open so we can work on upgrading what’s there,” she said. “The one thing we really want to do is trade out those ugly Jersey barriers.”
Holaday said the city has applied for a state grant that would pay for colored plastic barriers, which she said would be more aesthetically pleasing.
Holaday said she also hopes to have outdoor live music in the downtown as well. While she likes the idea of a walkable space on State Street, the traffic closure did pose problems for restaurants offering takeout and curbside pickup.
“I’m not sure what the benefit is" of shutting down State Street, Holaday said. “For me, it's always been the balance of trying to be equitable for all the businesses. I’m anxious for more feedback because it was a trial.”
Last weekend, a police detail was included in the State Street closure, and city workers were paid overtime to set up and break down the traffic barrier.
Holaday again noted the need for lightweight traffic barriers, which she said would streamline the setting up and breaking down of outdoor seating areas.
“These are all billable COVID-19 expenses, but I would prefer not to have a police detail. We had to move to get things open again,” Holaday said. “Now, we can work on upgrading what’s there. I’m glad that we started.”