The City Council, responding to the objections voiced at Tuesday’s council meeting, tabled a request by the Chamber of Commerce to close traffic on Forest Avenue from 3 to 10 p.m. the third Thursday of April through October, test-driven last year as the Promenade.
The chamber also asked to have sound for entertainment and permission to sell beer and wine.
“I tried to be supportive of the project — I did fashion shows and events — but the only thing that happened is we had skateboaders from 2 p.m. on,” said Lacy Walker, manager of Chico’s.
Walker was one of eight opponents from the downtown business community who spoke against the proposal, most of them frustrated by the loss of parking.
“I might as well close at 2 p.m. on the day of the Promenade,” said Michael McFadden, son-in-law of longtime Forest Avenue jeweler Rock Martin. “My customers need parking.”
Fears were expressed that customers who could not find parking would simply keep on driving right out of town and spend their money elsewhere.
The chamber organized the monthly event to draw people downtown. It was supposed to help businesses.
“My records show that retail sales cease when the street is closed,” said Rosalie Gelston, owner of Thee Foxes Trot and the building occupied by Green Cube Gallery, both in the 100 block of Forest Avenue.
George Nelson, owner of Fawn Memories opined that the Thursday night events were even harder on stores in the 200 block.
Chamber Executive Director Rose Hancock said the chamber wanted to continue the event despite the opposition of the Forest Avenue merchants.
“I want to thank Rose for all the work she put into this proposal, but I have to agree it has not done what we wanted it to do,” Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said.
Sande St. John said the idea was generated by business owners who attended the Business Task Force meeting.
Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, the lone council supporter of the proposal, said she knew residents who had enjoyed the trial run last year. “But this is the first time I have heard this much opposition,” said Pearson, who co-chaired the task force with Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman.
Iseman said she had planned to pull the item from the agenda’s consent calendar where it could have been approved without discussion but was forestalled by Councilwoman Jane Egly and several voices from the audience.
“My concern is that it is a good attempt to help businesses, but I am concerned about the impact of fun and games [in the street] on stores and on restaurants, if the chamber sells beer and wine,” Egly said. “I am also concerned that it is not so much a family event.”
Iseman was disturbed by the dates proposed by the chamber.
“What jumped out at me is June, July and August, the months when downtown circulation [traffic] is at its worst,” Iseman said.
Supporters of the proposal included canoe rental operator Billy Fried.
“This is an opportunity to hang out in an environment free of cars,” Fried said. “I hope the retailers can stay open-minded for just one day a month.”
Resident Michael Hogue also lent his support.
“We travel to car-free places and millions go there and spend money,” Hogue said. “I see this as an effort to build foot traffic.”
Chamber officials were encouraged by the council to try to come to terms with the merchants and if they did, to come back to the council with a new proposal.
“We are here to listen,” Rollinger said.
The vote to take no action on the proposal was 3 to 1. Councilman Kelly Boyd recused himself because of the proximity of his business to the 100 block of Forest Avenue.