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Council postpones action on loans for downtown businesses

Rockland announces times for Main Street closures

By Stephen Betts | May 21, 2020

Rockland — City Manager Tom Luttrell announced Thursday the dates and times for closing downtown Rockland's Main Street to vehicle traffic.

The announcement came after a task force of city officials and downtown business representatives held another meeting earlier in the day May 21.

The closing schedule will be 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, June 19 and Saturday, June 20 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

And the same schedule will be in place for Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27.

Luttrell said that the task force will meet again after those two weekends to decide whether to recommend to the City Council further Main Street closings during July.

The manager consulted with a task force of six business representatives and four city staff members to work out details. The original proposal by the Council called for closing Main Street from Park Street to Glover's Passage for all of June.

The Maine Department of Transportation is in full support of the proposal, Luttrell said.

The city will have to erect signs alerting motorists of the downtown closure. Those signs would be placed at Route 1 and 90 in Warren, Route 1 and 90 in Rockport, Route 1 and Old County Road in Thomaston, Route 1 and Old County Road in Rockport and the intersection of Park Street and Broadway.

Councilor Valli Geiger said she was troubled that the Council had no say on the appointment of task force members, nor on the specific directives to the group. The Council voted at its May 11 meeting to authorize the manager to close the downtown to vehicle traffic in June after he consulted with business owners and employees, as well as public safety officials.

Councilor Ben Dorr, who operates a downtown business, serves on the task force.

The aim of the closure is to allow shops and restaurants to expand their service to sidewalks in order to better meet physical distance requirements.

The street plan calls for the following:

  • Orient Street shall be one-way westerly from Main Street to Union Street.
  • Oak Street shall be one-way easterly from Union Street to Main Street. The two eastern-most parking spaces of the municipal parking lot between Oak Street and Orient Street shall be marked “No Parking” to provide vehicular access from Oak Street to Orient Street to reverse direction back to Union Street.
  • Jersey Barriers shall be placed at the intersection of Park and Main so no vehicular traffic will be allowed to travel north on Route 1.
  • Route 1 detour signs will be placed directing traffic onto Broadway, Route 1 by-pass.
  • Jersey Barriers will be installed at each side street/driveway entering or exiting Main Street, both easterly and westerly from Orient Street to Limerock Street.
  • Elm Street shall be open to two-way traffic to allow access to and from properties on that street.
  • Limerock Street shall be open to two-way traffic to allow access to the Post Office. Vehicles should use the Post Office Parking Lot to reverse direction back to Union Street.
  • Glover’s Passage will be one-way traffic from Thorndike Parking Lot west to Main Street.
  • Deliveries to businesses on the east side of Main Street shall be made from the Thorndike parking lot or the Winter Street parking lot.

Council holds off on loan program

The City Council voted 4-1 at its May 20 meeting to postpone creating a program to offer loans to downtown businesses who were harmed by COVID-19 related shutdowns.

The postponement came after councilors expressed concern about favoring downtown businesses over other businesses.

Councilor Nate Davis said he would like to see a downtown in the months and years to come that everyone enjoys.

"There is such a perception now, to some extent a justified perception, that downtown is somehow elite or exclusive. The idea of creating a program that helps downtown businesses without a corresponding program to help other businesses, makes me uneasy," Davis said.

Community Development Director Julie Hashem pointed out that the downtown TIF district allows the use of the money for loans.

Davis said the money could be used for improvements to the physical parts of downtown that would benefit all people, or a transit project based in the area.

Councilor Ed Glaser said this was targeted at a small group of businesses, which he said want to help, but spending it on downtown structural improvements might be a better use of the money.

Councilor Dorr said he had mixed feelings on the loan program, also pointing out that this would only help a small geographic group of businesses. He said businesses throughout the city are struggling.

The city manager said the goal is to prevent additional storefronts from being emptied.

"Our biggest fear is we have empty downtown storefronts now. We don't want more that will make our downtown look bleak and nobody wants to come," Luttrell said. "So we when we do close Main Street to have retail and restaurants out on the street that it is a full and vibrant downtown and not every third or second storefront is empty."

Councilor Valli Geiger voiced support for the loan program, saying it could help keep businesses afloat.

The vote to postpone was 4-1. Mayor Lisa Westkaemper voted against delaying a vote.

This would be the first time that Rockland has offered property tax dollars for loans. The city has previously used state Community Development money to provide loans for property owners for building repairs.

The $100,000 would come from the downtown tax increment financing account. That money is generated from property taxes paid by downtown property owners.

The no-interest loans will be up to $5,000 per business.

There are two options for borrowers. One is to have the loan repayment deferred until the property the person owns is sold at which time the loan will have to be repaid in full. The second is monthly payments for up to five years with the first payment to be made a year after the loan is granted.

The business must be locally owned and operated with 10 or fewer employees. The business must show a loss of revenues of 50% or more for the previous three months compared to a year earlier that is not covered by another government program.

The loan can be used for rent, mortgage, payroll or other working capital.

Businesses located in the downtown district are eligible to apply. This is an area bordered by Park Street to the south, Union Street to the west, and Talbot Avenue to the north.

The loan committee with consist of the city manager, community development director, and finance director.

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Comments (8)
Posted by: Dorinda Jacobs | May 23, 2020 09:22

Will they be charging admission?

Posted by: Dorinda Jacobs | May 23, 2020 09:22

Will they be charging admission?

Posted by: Doug Curtis Jr. | May 22, 2020 19:37

I think it is stupid to make Limerock Street two way. The post office closes at noon and everyone turns down school Street to get there from Union Street.  Where would they be going on Saturday if Main Street is closed to Glover's passage.  They could park at the post office parking lot/area and get there from School Street.

Posted by: Cynthia Mary Anderson | May 22, 2020 10:52

I am interested to know where the handicapped are supposed to have a "not so pleasant" walk around Main St.  How are the handicapped supposed to get from what ever parking lot they mange to get into, to downtown Main St.  The reason I support local businesses, is because I have access to them.  We have been through such major changes in our lives right now, do we really have to cause such another huge one?  To what end? Supposedly, there will be a major drop in the tourist industry, so there will be markedly less business for the downtown businesses.  I am extremely sad and concerned for them.  So, with less tourist traffic, how do you expect the locals to keep the downtown restaurants and businesses running??  We can't afford it!!  I will be interested to see how many traffic accidents are caused by this change in road rules.  I am very dismayed.


Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | May 21, 2020 16:30

This seems like more work than it's worth, but I understand why folks may want to "try it out." I think closing Main Street for a complete week would give everyone a better feel for things. I see no reason to make Limerock a two-way street during this experiment. Likewise for Elm Street - there is no way to turn around. I would like to see traffic allowed to cross Main Street from Elm to Winter Street.

It's important to remember that for those with no difficulty walking, the idea is to NOT take your vehicle near Main Street. Park nearby and enjoy a pleasant walk along a side street you may not be familiar with. It's a great time to look at architecture and maybe meet someone you don't know.

Posted by: Eric Thurston | May 21, 2020 09:20

Why are the normal one way directions of Orient and Oak Streets being reversed? There may be a good reason but it seems that this would create confusion.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 21, 2020 09:06

The experiment to close Downtown Main street for one weekend seems not to fast or not to slow.  It seems more half-fast.  Doing something like this in a very hap-hazard way could damage any future plans for a more vibrant Main street  This attitude of "lets try it and see what happens" often creates a platform for disaster.  I think Nate is on the right tract.  "Lets make Rockland Downtown a place in the months and years ahead that everyone can enjoy."  Why not take the TIF money and as Ed Glaser said:  "spend it (TIF funds) on structural improvements".  Take advantage of this lul period and create a better Main street with wider tree lined sidewalks and a one lane main street (that will slow down traffic and allow for emergency vehicles.)  and a modified street plan to allow for a better flow of traffic.  At the same time the ongoing issues of parking and deliveries could be addressed. Please, please NO task force, nothing more than a committee with a better name.  NO just dig the Main street revitalization plan out of the file cabinet and use that. We've already paid for it along with the harbor plan and several others sitting on the shelve.  We have talked Main street to death, Now lets take the time and money to make it permanently better, and not just a weekend flash in the pan.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 21, 2020 08:31

Sounds like the manager still plans on going ahead with the "loans". I CERTAINLY HOPE THE COUNCIL DOESN'T ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.

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