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Plan To Temporarily Close Downtown Streets, Aid Businesses Could Cost $90K

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 15, 2020
A view of Front Street in downtown Wilmington. Street closures are part of a program that would help downtown businesses increase their customer space in the wake of coronavirus capacity restrictions. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
Downtown business leaders and city officials are still working through the details of a plan that could close streets to give restaurants more room for diners and retailers a boost as they cope with coronavirus restrictions.

Although a budget has not been finalized, the cost for a program that would include street closures could end up being about $90,000, depending on which special event manager the city chooses. Manager possibilities include downtown economic development agency Wilmington Downtown Inc. or event producer Cool Wilmington.

About $45,000 of that cost could come from a city economic development contingency fund, said Thom Moton, deputy city manager, in a presentation during the Wilmington City Council's agenda briefing Monday morning.

What would be considered a special event, with more restaurants being able to take advantage of outdoor dining and retailers benefiting from the increased traffic, has been dubbed Downtown Alive by one of the organizations working on it, the Downtown Business Alliance.

A plan with some answers about the potential cost and other information could be considered by City Council at its special meeting scheduled for June 23, with the street closures starting as early as June 25.

One of the next steps is to determine exactly how many businesses would be taking advantage of the street closures, which would involve Front Street bounded by Market and Chestnut streets, Princess Street bounded by Front and Second streets, Princess Street bounded by Second and Third streets and Front Street bounded by Market and Dock streets.

Some of the benefits can't be quantified, Councilman Neil Anderson said Monday, adding, "If we can save some of these businesses and keep the trajectory of our downtown on the path it has been on, that's very desirable."

But he said he is concerned about making sure downtown businesses will be part of the program, which outside of funding includes city manpower.

"We need to really have a handle on participation or else it's a big exercise in nothing. I want commitments. I want 'I'm signing up; I'm in; I'm for this,'" Anderson said.

DBA leaders had informally polled more than 55 businesses downtown that expressed interest, but on Monday, "we agreed that we would go ahead and contact the individual restaurants that want to participate as well as retailers," said Terry Espy, DBA president.

In the preliminary plan, the street closures would take place 6:30-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Monday's presentation, unchanged from a June 1 presentation.

Business owners who want to be part of the program would have to fill out a temporary use application. Another part of the program yet to be decided would be whether it would continue through Sept. 7 or prior to that if Gov. Roy Cooper allows restaurants to operate at full capacity sometime before that date.

The rest of Moton's presentation Monday can be viewed on the City Council archives page of the city's website.
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