A plan to close some city streets for months to allow stores and restaurants to expand into them was endorsed Thursday by a Portland City Council committee.

The plan, intended to help restaurants and stores serve more customers as they reopen from a statewide pandemic shutdown order, will go to the full council at its meeting Monday.

It calls for small stretches of Dana, Exchange, Milk and Wharf streets to be closed to traffic.

The council’s Economic Development Committee voted 4-0 in favor of the proposal, which would begin June 1 when the state allows restaurants to reopen for the first time since mid-March.

It will allow restaurants and stores to use parts of the streets to help make up for interior space lost to social distancing requirements in Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order that call for people to stay at least 6 feet apart. Many restaurant owners have said that restriction, and the resulting loss of capacity, will make it hard for them to make money.

Plans to close parts of Cotton and Middle streets were dropped from the original proposal drafted by city staffers.


City Manager Jon Jennings said the one restaurant on the stretch of Cotton Street proposed for closing was not going to take part and on Middle Street, the city will allow more use of sidewalks and expand its “parklet” program, which allows restaurants to move tables into parking spaces. The city is also easing rules for parklets – for instance, the city would no longer require a restaurant to build a platform on the parking space – and said the fee for using a space was being cut from $5,000 to $1,092.

The street closing program will run until Nov. 1 and on-street restaurant seating areas will have to close by 10 p.m. daily, but the streets will be closed 24 hours a day, except to delivery vehicles and residents in the morning.

Mike Wiley, one of the owners of Big Tree Hospitality, a company that owns four restaurants and a catering operation, said the approach will offer a lifeline to restaurants.

“This is a source of solace in a scary time,” he said. “It presents for us an opportunity to be entrepreneurial” in using the extra space creatively.

Councilor Justin Costa, who chairs the committee, said the street closing idea is being tried to assist businesses that have struggled since closing because of the pandemic.

“It’s a step in the direction that we hope will be helpful for businesses,” Costa said. “We don’t know that yet. This is an experiment. If this isn’t helpful, we can change course.”


Jennings echoed that thought and said the city will monitor the program and make alterations if needed.

“We’re doing a lot of things on the fly,” he said.

Jennings said use of sidewalks is somewhat constrained because disability access laws require a four-foot strip to be kept clear. He also said a section running down the middle of the streets would be kept clear to allow emergency vehicles access if needed.

He also said that the city can’t adopt the closing program anywhere it pleases. Some roads, such as Congress Street, are controlled by the state Department of Transportation.

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