June 04, 2020
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Portland mulling plan to launch downtown open-air market

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Downtown Portland.

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Portland city leaders will weigh a pilot plan to help downtown businesses climb out of the coronavirus hole by creating an open-air market.

The City Council and its Economic Development Committee will begin reviewing later this week the city-staff proposal to close sections of six streets ― Cotton, Dana, Exchange, Milk, Middle and Wharf streets ― to vehicle traffic starting June 1.

If Portland adopts the plan, the city will be Maine’s second to look to help retailers ― especially bars and restaurants ― survive the shutdown that came with the pandemic by stopping through-traffic. Rockland City Council members voted unanimously on Monday to turn a portion of their downtown into an open-air market about two weeks ago.

Portland’s proposal would close the street sections to allow restaurants and retail businesses to expand onto public and private property for extra room for retail merchandise or restaurant seating to allow them to conform to social distancing guidelines. The businesses will use sidewalks, parking lots, and plazas, according to a statement released by Portland city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

“We are all aware of the enormous pressure our small businesses are under,” said City Councilor Justin Costa, chairman of the council’s Economic Development Committee. “We hope that this plan will be of some help to our businesses that are seeking to do the right thing and serve customers in the safest way possible.”

The city will waive fees covering the expansion of existing outdoor dining premises reduce those for new parking spaces created under the plan. Fees for outdoor dining and sidewalk sales permits will remain, but not be due for 60 days, according to the statement. Businesses must follow all state coronavirus social-distancing guidelines with signs and seat-spacing restrictions.

The businesses will be allowed to use their new spaces until 10 p.m. Food trucks and other outdoor vendors, such as for seafood sales, will continue in their designated spaces. Seafood sales trucks will follow guidelines set for food trucks, according to the statement.

The council’s Economic Development Committee will review the plan on Thursday at 4 p.m. If approved, the full council will vote on it on May 18.

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