Submitted by the City of Bellingham, written by Janice Keller
The planned temporary closure of a block of Holly Street in downtown Bellingham, scheduled to begin Wednesday, July 15, is the first of several planned alterations of City streets intended to help businesses thrive by providing extra space for social distancing.
City of Bellingham officials are collaborating with business owners and representatives on creative ways to support restaurants and retailers as they adapt to COVID-19 health restrictions, Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood said. Allowing full and partial street closures during the summer, so businesses can expand into and take advantage of those outdoor spaces, is one way the City can support our business community, he said.
“Economic recovery is a top priority. We want to take steps that are welcome, supportive, and even experimental, to help our businesses thrive. They are demonstrating amazing ingenuity as they adapt to health restrictions, and we want to do everything we can to help while they observe health protocols,” Mayor Fleetwood said. “The inconvenience of a detour is a small price to pay to help save downtown and Fairhaven businesses.”
The City of Bellingham is partnering with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and Historic Fairhaven Association to open streets and parking areas for businesses in need of additional space to meet COVID-19 requirements. Under Phase 2 guidelines, restaurants are limited to 50% of their usual capacity and tables must be spaced a minimum of six-feet apart. This makes business as usual almost impossible for many operators.
In the next few weeks, the following street segments will be altered:
Holly Street: Full-block closure of all driving lanes between Commercial Street and Bay Street in downtown Bellingham will begin Wednesday, July 15. Detour routes for through traffic will be clearly marked. Additional off-street parking is available in the Commercial Street Parking Garage, which will remain be accessible via Commercial Street.
10th Street: Closure of the west driving lane and parking area between Mill Street and Harris Avenue will begin Thursday, July 16.
Railroad Avenue: Conversion of several angled parking stalls to expand dining area between Holly Street and Champion Street is anticipated to begin during the week of July 20.
“Working with the City to ensure downtown businesses have the ability to expand their seating capacity outside during these summer months is a significant way we can help with our district’s recovery,” said Alice Clark, Executive Director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership. “We really appreciate the City’s willingness to do what’s necessary to accommodate the businesses involved in these expansions. For many these adaptations are critical to their ongoing operations.”
“It has been encouraging working with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and the City of Bellingham as we creatively explore how we can support our businesses during this time.” said Scott Ward, Executive Director of the Historic Fairhaven Association. “Street closures expand the seating area for several of our restaurants and enhances the pedestrian experience. It is an exciting project for Fairhaven and the businesses involved.”
“As a business owner I know our success is tied to a thriving and vibrant downtown and Fairhaven,” said Peter Frazier, managing partner of Bellingham’s Hotel Leo and Heliotrope Hotel. “Many of our favorite businesses are in a fight for survival right now. If a driver spends an extra minute or two to detour, they can know they are doing so to help save our locally-owned and beloved restaurants, shops, and bars, and create a safe and enjoyable outdoor scene.”
“The community has expressed interest in uses of streets that go beyond car traffic,” Mayor Fleetwood said. “Many of our visions for Bellingham, expressed through our bike and pedestrian plans, downtown plans, and other public processes, emphasize non-motorized transportation options and call for us to create plazas, parklets, promenades and other inviting spaces for people. These challenging times create a rare opportunity to experiment with these ideas, which can help save our local businesses and create welcoming places for people to safely gather.”
The street closures and adaptations approved to date are permitted into early fall and may be extended, depending on their success and the status of COVID-19 response measures. Modifications may occur during this time to adapt to changing needs and lessons learned.