MANCHESTER SOON could join other cities across the state in offering expanded outdoor dining downtown, if aldermen approve a plan to allow restaurants to use Elm Street parking spaces as dining areas.
Mayor Joyce Craig, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long and Intown Executive Director Sara Beaudry will pitch their proposal to aldermen at Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Craig, Long and Beaudry said in a memo to aldermen that after Gov. Chris Sununu let the stay-at-home order expire and eased restrictions on public gatherings, “it makes sense to safely expand outdoor dining options even more.”
The group talked to restaurant owners and managers along Elm Street about the opportunity to expand seating in parking spaces directly in front of their businesses.
“Some businesses are interested in utilizing parking spaces for additional outdoor dining, and some are not,” the memo said. “The goal here is to help our local businesses expand safe, socially distanced outdoor dining options, understanding full well the financial hit they’ve taken during this pandemic.”
City officials said based on feedback they have received, about 21 of the 120 parking spaces along Elm Street between Bridge and Merrimack streets would be blocked off with concrete barriers.
As of late last week, businesses interested in using parking spaces for outdoor seating were The Bookery (five spaces), Cafe Le Reine (three spaces), Campo Enoteca (three spaces), Republic (three spaces), The Gyro Spot (two spaces) and Penuche’s Music Hall (four spaces).
If aldermen OK the plan, public works crews are expected to install the barriers the weekend of July 18-19 for use July 20 through Oct. 11.
City officials estimate each downtown space generates approximately $65 a week in parking revenue. If 20 spaces are used for dining for 13 weeks as planned, officials put the estimated revenue loss at $16,900.
“Availability of parking is always a concern, however this option provides an opportunity for those businesses who want to expand outdoor seating to do so, while also providing ample parking options to visitors of the downtown,” wrote Craig, Long and Beaudry in their proposal.
Similar measures have met with success in other New England communities, including Nashua, Portsmouth, Portland and the North End in Boston.
Peter Macone, a partner at Republic and Campo Enoteca restaurants, started an online petition in April to close sections of Elm Street to vehicule traffic and open the area for outdoor dining and pedestrians. That initiative, which received more than 3,200 signatures, was tabled.
School board rejects
crossing guard bill
City school board members voted last week to pass the buck — er, bill — for hours not worked by crossing guards while schools were closed for COVID-19.
School board members voted 12-3 to send the bill, for $26,637.99 for 1,750 hours worked in April — when schools across the state were closed — to city aldermen to pay. Voting against the motion were Craig, Dan Bergeron and Jim O’Connell.
School board members voted last month to delay discussion on the subject until they could get information from the police department about why the bill was submitted.
“Quite frankly, this was not a high item on our radar with everything else we were doing,” said Superintendent John Goldhardt. “When the bill came through it became an item where we went, ‘Oh, what’s going on here?’”
Craig said a meeting about reallocating workers during the pandemic took place between her office, Goldhardt, Assistant Superintendent Jenn Gillis and Police Chief Carlo Capano.
“The administration worked with the chief of police to address the SROs (School Resource Officers), the administration worked with Health Director Anna Thomas to work on reallocation of the nurses,” Craig said. “There was an intention to keep crossing guards employed when schools closed, because we weren’t sure how long schools were going to be closed and we need crossing guards for when we reopen.”
“The department heads on the city side had conversations with the administration at the school and were asking for direction,” Craig said. “But we didn’t get information back on the city side in terms of direction from the school district on what to do. The chief of police didn’t know if these employees were reallocated. It’s a question that wasn’t answered.”
“If they’re not working, they shouldn’t have been billing us to begin with,” said Ward 9’s Art Beaudry.
“I think personally the appropriate thing to do would be to send a letter to the aldermen and request payment of this,” Craig suggested. “Things were extremely busy, people were moving in a lot of different directions when this happened... this is one of the things that fell through the cracks. I don’t think it’s fair to point the finger at all at the police department.”
Beaudry cited a vote by aldermen at a March 31 meeting to promise to pay all city employees and independent contractors employed by the city during the pandemic. Crossing guards are contracted through the Manchester police department and therefore considered city employees.
“I just can’t support paying this at all,” said Ward 4’s Leslie Want. “I wouldn’t pay for hours not worked at my own house. I feel it would be irresponsible to take education dollars to pay this bill.”
Remote meets to continue
School board members voted last week to continue meeting remotely until Sununu ends emergency order No. 12, which allows public meetings to be conducted remotely during the pandemic.
The motion passed 8-7, with Nicole Leapley, Karen Soule, Bill Shea, Jane Beaulieu, Kelly Thomas, Joe Lachance, Beaudry and Want voting in favor.
Opposed were James Porter, Kathleen Kelley Arnold, James Dobson, Peter Perich, Craig, Bergeron and O’Connell.
The board voted unanimously to hold a rare mid-summer meeting on July 20. Possible plans for restarting school in the fall are anticipated to be available by then.