Traverse City Commission to Discuss Closing Part of Front Street
"I’ve had a lot of feedback good and bad."
Traverse City is looking at making some changes to the downtown area, to support businesses affected by the Coronavirus and the restrictions in place from the Governor’s Executive Orders.
The Downtown Development Authority has been working on this plan and communicating with downtown business owners. The idea is to close two blocks of East Front Street and let restaurants and other businesses that have had capacity restrictions on the inside, use additional space – outside.
The DDA proposal is technically a “traffic control order”, which would close East Front Street between Park and Union Streets to automobile traffic. That’s a two block stretch – and includes the 100 and 200 blocks of East Front Street.
Joe Welsh is the owner of Milk & Honey. He says there are lots of things to be considered. “There’s a lot of things, a lot of exigent circumstances here that really need to be considered before we just dive in and close off our main street.”
Business owners we talked seem mostly positive, but there are mixed reactions to the idea. Pierre Pujos owns the Flea boutique, and says, “I think it is a very good idea personally. I’m a strong supporter of the idea. It will help the restaurants do their business, and if the restaurants are active then we’ll have business. I think it is critical that we help each other. By supporting the restaurants we’ll bring people downtown.”
Heather Bailey is the General Manager at Grand Traverse Pie Company on East Front Street. I think it’s a good change. There’s been unfortunately a lot of drastic change lately. But I think it would be good to try. If it doesn’t work out for this summer, we attempted it.”
While we’re all talking about the same road – not everyone is on the same page. Joe Welsh thinks the idea has been rushed. “I don’t really think it’s that great of an idea. During the peak season it’s already hard enough to get downtown. When you take away one of the major arteries, even though it’s two blocks it just slows everything down and makes it so difficult to navigate the downtown area.”
If it passes, the two blocks would be closed to vehicles from the middle of June through all of Labor Day weekend. Given all that’s changed in the past few months with restrictions from the Coronavirus, Pierre Pujos thinks it’s a good time for the experiment. “It is the time to try, definitely. If we do not try it now we will never try it. We need to have social distancing. The restaurants cannot operate at more than 50%. If they do not make it in summer they will not go through winter. It is the same for us. We need to come with creative solutions.”
But for Welsh, the experiment following the already tough time with Coronavirus makes it too risky. “Trying something new maybe isn’t the cure all for what’s going to happen with that. I just don’t see it as a good idea.”
Customers have been sharing feedback as well. Heather Bailey says, “I’ve had a lot of feedback good and bad. I’ve had positive folks excited about shutting the road down so we can have more tables outside. That would be good for us and a lot of the other restaurants. But I have had feedback from other customers that aren’t excited because it’s going to be hard for them to get down here.” Parking is one key concern, because the proposal would prohibit cars along the two blocks of East Front.
The idea that’s been brewing is to close Front Street at the 100 and 200 blocks to vehicular traffic. It wouldn’t be continuous though. There would be a break right at Cass Street, which would allow north and southbound traffic to cross. One other change would be to open State Street – which is now a one way street – to two-way traffic in the same two block stretch.
Pujos says, “I think it’s a good idea. There is maybe some fine tuning to do. The deliveries, the parking, but I mean I think it is a great idea.”
That fine-tuning also includes making alternate plans for delivery drivers, the BATA Bus routes, and guaranteeing access for the fire department and first responders.