A couple walks into the closed part of Exchange Street in downtown Portland in August 2020. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

One of the Old Port’s busiest blocks may soon become a lot more pedestrian-friendly on Sundays.

The Portland City Council will consider a proposal Monday to close a section of lower Exchange Street – between Middle and Fore streets – to cars on Sundays from June 16 to Sept. 23. The weekly closure is being proposed by Portland Downtown, a nonprofit downtown improvement association.

The proposed weekly event would be called Open Air Sundays and would restrict traffic on that stretch of Exchange Street to pedestrians and bicyclists. The closure would be in effect from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the specified Sundays. Portland Downtown contends the closing will make the area more desirable for people who might want to shop or eat on the street, while helping businesses and creating a sense of community.

“This transformation allows for a range of activities that promote economic vitality and further build community,” said Cary Tyson, executive director of Portland Downtown, on Saturday. “Experience is part of the brand of Portland and downtown. People come here for the extraordinary food, architecture, small businesses and culture, and more. We have to continue to offer new and engaging experiences for locals and visitors alike.”

Tyson will be at the council’s 5 p.m. meeting Monday to answer questions on the Open Air Sundays proposal. According to a memo submitted as part of the council’s agenda, the proposal is being sponsored by the council’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee. The proposed order authorizing Open Air Sundays on Exchange Street says that no alcoholic beverages would be sold on the street or public property.

During the pandemic, portions of several Old Port streets were temporarily closed to allow business to operate outside, including Dana, Milk, Wharf, Exchange and Middle streets. Wharf, Milk and Dana continue to be closed to cars.

Tyson said Portland Downtown is asking for a 10-week trial period for the Exchange Street closing, after which the impacts can be analyzed by a third party. City staff “have reviewed safety factors involved with the closure and are confident Portland Downtown can host a successful season of Open Air Sundays,” according to the memo.

Portland Downtown will pay for the barricades used to block the street and city staff says no parking revenue will be lost, since on-street parking in Portland is free on Sundays. The group held a public meeting about the proposal on May 31 and told city officials it will have reached out to property owners on lower and upper Exchange Street, and Middle, Milk and Fore streets by Monday, either in writing, in person or by email.

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