MANCHESTER -- Two aldermanic committees have given initial approval to closing a portion of Hanover Street for an economic development pilot program this summer.
The Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic and the Special Committee on Job Creation, Retention and Economic Development both gave the go-ahead to close Hanover Street on Friday and Saturday nights starting July 13 through Aug. 4.
The street will be closed from the intersection of Chestnut Street to the intersection with Nutfield Lane, the side street used to access the Citizens Bank building parking garage. Hanover Street will open again at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday morning, a compromise move the aldermen included to address concerns of some of the Hanover Street retailers.
Before the closure is enacted, the Police and Fire Departments must sign-off on all logistics and the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen must approve the measure. The vote will likely take place sometime in the next two weeks in a phone poll, since the next scheduled board meeting is July 17.
The goal, according to Economic Development Director Jay Minkarah, is to draw people downtown to walk the area, go out to eat or perhaps see a show at the Palace Theater, the centerpiece of that Hanover Street block. Retail shops willing to stay open late and restaurants are seen as having the most to gain with this pilot program. The dining spots will also be allowed to extend their outdoor seating to the edge of the parking spaces on Hanover Street, though they would have to contribute toward a required police detail for the area. The extended dining will still allow room for pedestrians to walk in the street or for an emergency vehicle to pass.
Opportunities for the Palace Theater, local businesses and Intown Manchester to bring in entertain could also be a possibility, said Alderman Patrick Arnold, if not this year, then perhaps if the program is successful and continued next summer.
Alderman Patrick Long is also eying the program for expansion, perhaps closing Hanover Street for the entire weekend.
"In other communities, it has been very successful," said Long.
Making cities more friendly to pedestrians is something Manchester and other cities are striving for, he added. "People would rather walk. I don't know if you've tried to use a crosswalk on Elm Street lately. It's not fun."
Long said he wouldn't be opposed to closing part of Elm Street if this program proves successful, especially if it cuts down on traffic and competition for parking.
"The more we set that (walking) mindset, the better off the downtown will be and we won't have those parking issues," said Long.
Closing Hanover Street was brought forward by Mayor Ted Gatsas' office and has received the support of many of the aldermen. An initial meeting with business owners did pose some concerns, such as whether fire trucks could access the street in an emergency or who will be responsible for cleaning the streets each day. Although some of the questions were answered and concerns were addressed, there are still some logistics that will be left to a steering committee of city officials before the Hanover Street closure is finalized.
These details include what kind of barricade will be used to block the intersection of Hanover and Chestnut Street.
Manchester Police Lt. Maureen Tessier said the closure would have little impact on traffic flow, based on the time of day, but recommended having a sturdy barrier or a parked vehicel at Chestnut and Hanover streets to prevent accidents.
That there were some unanswered questions did not sit well with some of the aldermen, who felt the move to launch this pilot program were rushed.
"There should have been a lot more work done on this,"? said Alderman Russ Ouellette. "I'm really concerned that not properly barricading the street, some car's going to come barreling down that road."?
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Beth LaMontagne Hall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.