An idea born out of helping businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic is now a permanent fixture in downtown Northville.
The closures of Main Street and Center Street in the heart of the city will remain closed to motor vehicle traffic permanently. The decision by the city at its Aug. 1 meeting comes less than two months after the council voted to extend the closures downtown council through early November.
After reviewing more information and taking in more details, the city council addressed the street closures issue again, making the decision to keep the roads closed to cars, allowing pedestrians and diners to continue using the street.
Supporters of the closures said they were helping attract and retain younger residents and visitors, something they said the city should continue to do.
“I’d submit that we need to roll out the welcome mat to families,” Councilman Andrew Krenz said. “To me, that is something that is enviable to any of my friends that come in from out of state or out of town.”
The roads were closed in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic to allow for better social distancing and add more seating since there were restrictions on indoor seating. Since then, the closures have become a hot topic of discussion in the community, with many different opinions on how to move forward with the streets. A survey on the issue completed by thousands was also conducted.
After gathering more information, the council voted 4-1 to permanently continue with the closure of Main Street between Center and Hutton and 3-2 to keep Center Street closed between Main Street and Dunlap.
Worry about lack of use in winter months
Major Brian Turnbull, who voted against both resolutions, said he plans to do what he can to support the closures. He said the downtown will most likely stay active through the end of the year, but said the challenge will come in January, February and March to keep the downtown active.
“It will be outstanding throughout the end of the year. There is no question. January, February, March, we will have to work this extremely hard,” he said. “We will now have to work with our business owners to see how we make this work through the winter.”
He said it’s crucial special events take place to keep the downtown activated, especially during the colder months.
That low activity in the winter was one reason many residents have said they want to street to reopen to cars. One such resident was Teresa Folino, who supported the closures initially but said it was time to allow vehicles to travel the two roads at least part of the year.
“I would like to speak in favor of compromise. I dislike the streets being closed all the time. I think that our community should be open,” she said. “I’m not opposed to change but I think it needs to be a compromised change.”
Part of that compromise, one local business owner said, should include extending the closures to include other parts of the street. Karry Bazzi, owner of The Lava Grille on Main Street between Center and Wing streets.
She said it would benefit her restaurant and others on the western side of downtown.
“I completely understand why the businesses in the closed area want it closed. I think there needs to be a fair playing field,” she said. “If you’re going to keep it closed, please consider expanding the closure to include the Lava Grille, the coney island and the Garage or open it back up completely.”
Lost road funding with street closures
Some of the new information considered by the city council on the road closures had to do with funding. If the roads remain closed permanently, the city loses Act. 51 dollars for those stretches. That amounts to more than $3,100 annually.
“If the roads are closed, there’s less wear and tear on the roads,” City Manager Pat Sullivan said. “On the other hand, you’re now maintaining roads that you want to make sure pedestrians don’t trip on, so there’s a little bit of a higher standard of maintenance than just maintaining an open street.”
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The bigger consequence could be if major repairs are needed: the closures also mean those portions would not be eligible for federal funding for construction, an amount that can encompass as much as 80% of a project.
Krenz said the loss of the Act 51 funds is something the city can absorb.
“That’s less than the contingency on that epic new printer that we signed up for in June,” he said, referencing an agenda item taken up during the June meeting where the street closures were last discussed. “That’s (money) that, one way or another, I think we can absorb even if we lose that funding. To me, that’s a non-factor.”
Contact reporter David Veselenak at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.