PORT TOWNSEND — Would you spend time in pop-up parklets through the winter months while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place? Would you continue dining in so-called streateries?
Those are two of six questions The Port Townsend Main Street Program is asking residents, visitors, restaurateurs and retailers in an online survey through Oct. 10.
The results will be shared with the city of Port Townsend ahead of the City Council’s Oct. 19 meeting, when it will consider extending the Open Streets Initiative.
That initiative was first introduced May 18, when the city was still in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington reopening plan.
“We were all scrambling around trying to understand what the rules and regulations would be and how to be safe,” Steve King, the city’s public works director, told the City Council during a Sept. 14 workshop meeting.
“We were preparing for the summer months, and we knew people would be coming to Port Townsend,” he said, “and we were trying figure out a strategy to encourage physical distancing.”
The city started by placing tables and seats at the Tyler Street Plaza, on Taylor Street sidewalks, at Pope Marine Park and at what’s been dubbed the Adams Street Plaza, which previously offered seven waterfront parking spaces. The city also placed portable toilets around town.
On June 1, the City Council formalized the initiative by adopting a resolution to allow businesses to operate on sidewalks and in streets with a temporary permit as soon as Jefferson County entered Phase 2, which happened June 3.
The resolution waived the usual $250 permit application fee through Oct. 31, and the City Council asked that the initiative be reviewed in September.
“We wanted this process to be as easy as possible so we could get more tables out there and serve more customers so we could save some of these restaurants,” said Community Services Officer Wendy Davis, who handled permitting and helped interested restaurants assemble their applications.
The first streatery was installed July 3 outside Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar, and it took up several parking spaces.
Since then, five streateries have been installed, one of which is in front of the Uptown Pub, and one parklet was established at Adams Street Plaza.
All together, 75 table seats were created, taking up 17 parking spaces.
Mari Mullen, executive director of the Main Street program, said many restaurants were thankful for the initiative whereas retailers didn’t see the potential for pop-up outdoor shopping as a worthwhile solution.
Instead, some retailers expressed concern about loss of limited downtown parking spaces, she said.
“The restaurateurs have been so positive about it, but with retailers, it’s a different thing,” Mullen told the City Council on Sept. 14. “They just think every parking spot counts.”
Some downtown property owners and retailers, especially on Taylor Street, have expressed concerns that the city may be “angling to make that a car-free zone,” Mullen said, noting that the if city eventually considers a more permanent streatery and parklet program, it will want to engage in a formal public process to develop a strategy for parking management.
“Parking has been a big issue for the city for a long time,” King said, “so we anticipate this could be wrapped into a bigger process to see if a permanent program is desired.”
For now, the focus is on whether to extend the initiative through the end of the year or until the county enters Phase 4, whichever comes sooner, King said.
Among the proposed uses for some $777,665 in combined city and county CARES Act funding that must be used before the end of the year is purchasing a street-sized tent for outdoor dining and other gatherings as well as purchasing outdoor heaters for use inside that tent.
That would fit well into restaurateur Kris Nelson’s vision of warm, well-lit and inviting outdoor spaces that could serve residents and visitors alike through the colder, wetter winter months.
“People are not quite comfortable being inside yet,” said Nelson, whose Alchemy Bistro and Old Whiskey Mill have benefited from the streateries.
“I can’t say that people will sit outside under a tent with heaters, and I can’t say that there is some kind of tent that will survive our wind.
“If we had the option to make something special and magical outside,” she said, “that would mean a lot to those of us who are fighting for our survival.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected]