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July 01. 2013 10:16PM

Closing two Hanover Street blocks on weekend nights up for vote

MANCHESTER — Aldermen are poised to approve the closure of two blocks of Hanover Street downtown to make way for live music and outdoor dining on weekend evenings over the summer.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen are set to vote tonight on continuing the program for the second year in a row, following its endorsement by the Committee on Public Safety Monday.

The committee voted to back the closure, despite complaints from downtown bar and restaurant owners that the program boosted business on Hanover at the expense of establishments located elsewhere.

A petition submitted to aldermen last month stated, "Last year most of us experienced a significant reduction in revenue generation, specifically during the times when Hanover St. was barricaded."

The petition was signed by 16 businesses. Since then, however, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long contacted several of the establishments, and they indicated that they were not affected by the closure. Others, such as the owner of J.W. Hill's, proposed the closure of Elm Street one night a week.

Meanwhile, restaurants on Hanover, including Penuche's and Hooked, and other businesses have praised the program as a way to boost the vitality of downtown. They've formed an association to coordinate the event, including the live music.

Should aldermen sign off on the plan, the closure would begin this Friday. Hanover Street, from Chestnut to within a half block of Elm Street, would be closed to vehicle traffic on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 6 p.m. The street would reopen the next day at 7 a.m. The closures would continue through Aug. 31.

The owner of XO on Elm, one of the restaurants that had been out front in criticizing the closure, sought to distance herself on Monday from the effort to stop the program.

"XO has nothing to do with it," owner Rosa Paolini said. "I have better things to do with my time."

However, she added, "I'm afraid it will open a can of worms. Tomorrow all the businesses will want to do the same thing."

The public safety committee on Monday voted to recommend the closure without discussion.

Only one person voted against it, committee Chairman Ed Osborne, Ward 5, who argued that it gave some establishments an unfair advantage. "You have more businesses outside Hanover Street than you have on Hanover," he said. "I believe in all, not just one."

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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