Cars drive down Central Street in Bangor on Tuesday. City staff have proposed closing the street between Harlow and Hammond streets.

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Downtown Bangor may look dramatically different this summer, as city councilors weigh whether to shut down several streets and allow businesses to offer dining and retail services outdoors.

The plan, detailed in a memo sent to the City Council on Tuesday, would close Central Street from Harlow to Hammond streets, along with a section of Harlow from Franklin to Central. Broad Street from Main Street to where Merchants Plaza abuts West Market Square would also be closed to vehicles. Businesses would temporarily be able to offer expanded outdoor dining and retail services along the closed streets, as well as in parking spots and other public areas.

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The closures would help downtown businesses offer more space to facilitate physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, said Tanya Emery, Bangor’s community and economic development director. The city had heard from a number of businesses interested in the possibility of additional outside space, she said.

“Customers may feel more comfortable in an outdoor setting, or they could expand capacity, so we brainstormed ways the city could facilitate that,” Emery said. “We’re hopeful this gives businesses the ability to add to their reopening options by expanding capacity, attracting attention and providing an alternative to small indoor spaces by maximizing use of public spaces.”

Under the plan, a small section of Broad Street from Main Street to Merchant’s Plaza would be shut down — the part of the street directly adjacent to West Market Square. Additionally, the loading zone on Main Street along West Market Square would be converted into five 15-minute curbside pickup parking spaces. The plan would also allow businesses along Main Street to convert parking spaces into “parklets” for outdoor dining or retail.

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The entirety of Central Street would also be closed down. The memo noted that Central Street was closed off without major incidents on Thursday evenings for about two months during the summer of 2014, in order to hold the Cool Sounds Concert Series and the outdoor market, usually held in West Market Square, which was under construction at that time.

The Central Street closure would also shut down one lane of traffic on Harlow Street from Central to Franklin and make the other lane one-way, to allow the businesses on Harlow, across the street from Peirce Park, to benefit from the closures. Traffic coming from Harlow Street that would normally turn down Central Street would continue one block to Franklin Street.

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Emery said that outdoor dining and retail options would not be exclusively limited to downtown.

“We are also working with businesses outside of downtown by facilitating the same types of changes, just not on public spaces,” she said.

The City Council will vote on the plan to allow temporary outdoor dining and retail on public spaces at its Wednesday meeting, but will delay any action on street closures to another date.

Emery said she anticipates city staff and the council to move quickly and that they welcome more public comment this week.

“We want to encourage people with other ideas to share them with us,” she said. “There may be some great possibilities out there that we just haven’t uncovered yet.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.