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A section of Center Street is being closed for outside dining. The city is applying for a grant to aid in expanding dining options during the pandemic.

North Adams Eyeing Street Closures to Aid Local Businesses

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
01:27AM / Monday, July 06, 2020
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One possible option for Eagle Street would close it to motor vehicle traffic.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is looking for ways to expand opportunities for outdoor dining, starting on Monday with Center Street. 
A section of Center Street near Marshall Street will be shut down on Monday along with part of a private parking lot between the Mulcare Building and Juvenile Court. Traffic will be able to enter the St. Anthony Municipal Parking Lot from Center and exit the parking lot off Holden.
Officials are also working the North Adams Chamber of Commerce and downtown businesses in submitting a grant application to the state Department of Transportation's Shared Streets and Spaces. MassDOT has set aside some $5 million in grant funding designed to aid communities in supporting outdoor and pedestrian activities during the pandemic. There are also MassWorks grants available, according to Stantec's Liza Cohen.
The grant application was the subject of a meeting on Thursday seeking input from downtown restaurateurs on several possible dining areas on Eagle, Holden and Center streets. 
North Adams recently obtained technical assistance from Stantec to assist in planning and creating an application to the grant program, Zachery Feury, project coordinator in the Office of Community Development. 
"I should note that the grant program gives preference to proposals that are intended to be or become permanent and are implementable within 15 to 30 days of the award," he said.
The potential plans include all or parts of Eagle Street being closed; sections all of Holden Street; the east end of Center Street; and a small section of Main Street outside Ramunto's.
The novel coronavirus has made it difficult for eateries to operate over the last four months. The governor's emergency order in mid-March forced restaurants to close their doors to seating but allowed for takeout. 
Last month, restaurants were allowed to begin outside dining with proper social distancing and sanitation precautions and, last week, limited indoor dining. The License Commission has already approved amending a number of alcohol licenses and inspection services has fast-tracked additional seating for a number of restaurants using alleyways, sidewalks and parking lots. 
Glenn Maloney, president of the chamber, City Councilor Benjamin Lamb and Mayor Thomas Bernard had walked around the downtown a week ago to get some sense of where outside dining could occur. 
"First, these are very, very early steps," Maloney told the half-dozen or so business owners who dialed into the Zoom meeting. "It was an effort to quickly try to come up with some options. I want to make sure that you know we're on the same page that these are very flexible, mobile and what is actually going to help everybody."
He acknowledged that the plans being reviewed are obviously helpful to certain eateries and not others. 
"For those that aren't, those have been important for all of us to figure out how do we help in the less obvious areas," he said.
Mark Meehan, of the Capitol Restaurant on Main Street, pointed that out. None of the dining options would help his restaurant because they are too far away. 
"I just don't see anything that's helpful at all to us," he said. "This would work for me at all, because it's all too far away from us."
Matthew Tatro of Grazie agreed there needed to be ideas for everybody in the downtown, suggesting that the Capitol could have more Main Street dining "where you can have some dedicated seating. I know you have some but four tables is not adequate outdoor dining."
Feury said he could look at location and see if there was a closer option for both the Capitol and Meng's Pan-Asian around the corner in the Berkshire Plaza. That could include blocking off a couple of parking spots. 
The discussion also turned, again, to the potential for closing off Eagle Street and turning it  into a pedestrian way. The draft plans for outdoor dining included one modification of the woonerf plans that have been in consideration for more than a year. A woonerf would be a shared street with pedestrian and motor vehicle access; another option would be to revert north Church Street to two-way traffic. 
Maloney said a lot of the stores on the street are afraid that eliminating parking will hurt their businesses. 
Closing any or all of three streets -- Eagle, Holden and Center -- would not be a radical move. They have frequently been closed during summer events such as the Eagle Street Beach Party, Downstreet Art and for farmers and crafts markets. The difference this time is the change would last through November and, possibly, pave the way for more permanent outdoor seating.
Amy Shapiro, with Franklin County Community Development Corp., asked if this was a chance for collaborative marketing for the downtown businesses.
"This is such a great opportunity for all the businesses in downtown," she said. "I'm just wondering if there a way to collaborate marketing, so that it really brings people down and people feel safe, they feel like it's an experience.
"And I'm also wondering ... is there an opportunity for artists, other businesses to be able to leverage this experience of having so much activity outside."
Feury thought the city would be happy to help the chamber and independent businesses with outreach to the extent it's able.
In response to questions of what the grant would provide, Feury said the initial focus in pinning down plans. Once those are chosen, the application will drill down on details for what would be needed to make these areas safe and Americans With Disabilities Act compliant. 
"As you can tell, a lot of these areas are on the streets with curbs and away from curb cuts," he said. "And so we have to ensure that they are accessible for all sidewalk users."
Feury anticipated the grant application being submitted within a week and then it could be about two weeks before the city was notified. 
"That doesn't mean that during that two-week period we can put all our ducks in a row and we might be able to move forward with some other things," he said. 
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