MANCHESTER — A proposal to turn one of downtown Manchester's most eclectic streets into a pedestrian walkway for at least part of the week faces scrutiny tonight.
Committees of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will discuss an idea kicked around for a decade — closing a block of Hanover Street to provide greater pedestrian access to an array of businesses, including 10 restaurants and bars, a handful of boutique-style shops and an oxygen bar.
Earlier this spring, Mayor Ted Gatsas asked several public and private agencies to develop a pilot program in which Hanover Street from Elm Street to Chestnut Street would be closed to vehicular traffic on weekend nights. After hearing from businesses in the area, the group narrowed the potential closing to the section of Hanover Street from a private alley down to Chestnut Street, a block that covers most of the bars and restaurants on the street.
The more restricted zone is seen as also providing better access to drop-off traffic at the Palace Theatre and access to the garage at the Citizens Bank building.
“To do it in a constructive and thoughtful manner might be good for downtown,” Palace Theatre President Peter Ramsey said.
Among issues that need to be tackled are the need for a police detail if restaurants are allowed to expand liquor service onto public streets and sidewalks, how to pay for cleaning the streets after the weekend and how to configure traffic patterns in the area to minimize inconvenience and safety risk.
Restaurants and bars are expected to benefit the most, with expanded outdoor seating on summer weekend nights, according to a letter sent by Economic Development Office Director Jay Minkarah to the aldermen.
Business owners said at a meeting a couple of months ago that they don't want a plan that will make it inconvenient for customers to get to their stores.
“I'm OK with it as long as they can access my store.” said John McGranahan of Harris Trophy at 22 Hanover St. He has no plans to stay open late while the barricades are up.
“I don't think someone visiting a restaurant or a bar is going to say 'I think I'll go buy a trophy,'” McGranahan said.
Andrea Lessard of Shop Estella, 52 Hanover St. said retail establishments can benefit from increased foot traffic if the details are thought out and well-executed.
“It needs to be planned and promoted so people understand what is happening, when it is open and closed and other necessary information,” Lessard said.
The Palace Theatre's Ramsey said that section of downtown already has a lot to offer.
“It's a fascinating microcosm of Manchester, a diverse community,” Ramsey said.
The idea is in the hands of the aldermen's committees on Public Safety and on Job Creation/Retention and Economic Development, which meet tonight at 6 p.m. in the aldermanic chamber.
Minkarah said his agency is prepared to assist the aldermen in assessing the benefits and drawbacks to the street-closing and deciding if and how to move forward.
Gatsas suggested the pilot program operate during July and August.
Backers of the plan say it's simply a logical step in the evolution of downtown.
“People feel good about coming to downtown Manchester,” Ramsey said. “Ten years ago, people went to Portsmouth to have great food; now people come to Manchester.”
- - - - - - - -
Bill Smith may be reached at email@example.com.