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UPDATE: The Economic Development Committee passes City of Portland's plan to close downtown streets for open-air market

The City of Portland proposal includes closing downtown streets to accommodate outdoor dining and retail sales. The plan moves to full council for further approval.

PORTLAND, Maine — The City of Portland on Tuesday announced a proposal to help restaurants and retail stores reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. The City of Portland presented the plan to the Council’s Economic Development Committee on Thursday, where it was approved. Next, the City will present the plan to the full Council at the Monday, May 18 meeting. If the plan is approved, the street closures would begin on June 1.

In conjunction with Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to reopen the Maine economy, the City proposed the plan that includes temporarily closing six downtown streets to allow some commercial businesses the ability to reopen.

The plan would accommodate outdoor dining and retail sales, as well as the expansion of existing outdoor dining spaces onto public and private property. The proposed plan would temporarily close sidewalks, parking lots, plazas, and parklets so restaurant seating and retail sales could safely take place. Physical distancing requirements and CDC safety guidelines would still need to be met.

“We are all aware of the enormous pressure our small businesses are under,” City Councilor Justin Costa (D-4), Chair of the Economic Development Committee said. “We hope that this plan will be of some help to our businesses that are seeking to do the right thing and serve customers in the safest way possible.”

At the Thursday presentation, the City said Cotton Street is no longer one of the proposed streets that would close, and that only a portion of Middle Street would be closed as well. 

The proposal includes the temporary closure of these downtown streets:

  • Dana Street
  • Exchange Street, from Fore to Federal Street
  • Milk Street, from Exchange to Market Street and from Silver to Pearl Street
  • A portion of Middle Street
  • Wharf Street
Credit: NCM

“We worked quickly across several departments to put together a proposal that would give our small business community a number of useful tools to assist them as they seek to reopen or expand their operations in accordance with the State’s guidance for a June 1 opening,” City Manager Jon Jennings said. “This a pilot program with a number of temporary policy changes that, if approved, we hope will help businesses as they seek to begin safely serving patrons again.”

The City says fees associated with the expansion of existing outdoor dining premises will be waived, and fees associated with parklet applications will be significantly reduced.

“By expanding outdoor capacity, the City hopes to support businesses in their efforts to re-open responsibly,” the City said in a press release.

The City does not intend for these closures to create public gathering or social space, and businesses are required (according to the State’s checklist) to have visible signage reminding visitors of proper social distancing and other COVID-19 recommendations.

The use of outdoor space on the proposed closed streets would be allowed until 10 p.m., but the street closures would remain in place 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Rockland proposed a similar plan that would close down a portion of its Main Street to give local businesses a boost. Rockland was the first in the state to propose such a plan, and city councilors unanimously voted to approve the plan Monday night.

“Reopening the state is not just about reopening businesses in a way that they were before,” Councilor Nate Davis said. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, not just for Main Street in Rockland but around the world, to try to reenvision aspects of how society is constructed.”

RELATED: Rockland explores closing Main Street to create 'open air market' as businesses in most Maine counties reopen

RELATED: Retail stores can reopen in 12 of 16 Maine counties

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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