LAKE PLACID — Here’s an idea: Close off half of Main Street — the lakeside lane from the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort to Players Sports Bar & Grill — during July and August. Keep the other lane open to one-way traffic, going toward Saranac Avenue. And use the closed lane for an expanded pedestrian experience with shopping and dining.
It could happen this summer if a proposal pitched by Greg Borzilleri and other supporters is approved. Borzilleri is the owner of Mirror Lake Boat Rental, located behind Players.
“The sidewalk is maintained as is,” Borzilleri said as he explained the idea to the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees Monday evening during its regular meeting. Restaurants and retailers could put out “tables, chairs, umbrellas, lights, music, racks for display, whatever on the street.” It would give businesses more square footage, “and that creates basically an open-air festival every day.”
The one-way traffic plan is the same one the village had submitted to the state Department of Transportation for the upcoming Main Street reconstruction, according to Mayor Craig Randall.
Village trustees voted unanimously Monday to support the concept. When details are worked out, the plan would come back to the board for final approval. The DOT will have to approve it, too, since Main Street is part of state Route 86.
“Since there will be less influx initially of travelers, I truly feel like it’s such a unique thing that people have always wanted to see on Main Street, but the reality never came to fruition,” Trustee Jason Leon said during the meeting. “I would go so far as to say it would bring out a lot of locals initially.”
Borzilleri said he was inspired by the city of Seattle’s decision to permanently close nearly 20 miles of streets to vehicle traffic by the end of the month. The streets have been closed temporarily to through traffic so people can walk and bike at a safe distance apart during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a May 7 report in the Seattle Times.
Lake Placid’s Main Street closure would be temporary, but it would not be a new concept for this village. Main Street was closed to vehicle traffic during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
This sort of “reimagined Main Street,” as Borzilleri calls it, was inspired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said repeatedly that the state should not just get back to a “new normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he insists New Yorkers should look to “build back better.”
DOT Region 1 Public Information Officer Bryan Viggiani said Tuesday evening that his department will review the proposal when they receive it.
A slower tourist season in the Adirondacks is expected this summer as the North Country economy reopens. Major events have either been canceled or postponed, and some attractions are closed for the season. The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism will roll out its marketing plan in phases to include locals first, then regional residents and finally travelers from outside the region.
“I think the board recognizes that this summer is going to be unusual,” Randall said during Monday’s meeting. “We ought to take every step we can to welcome people back into the village when it’s appropriate.”
From all indications, life will not get back to any kind of normal until there is a vaccine for the new coronavirus, and federal officials say that could take between a year and 18 months. The North Country will still be in pandemic mode this summer, even if all four phases of the North Country’s reopening are enacted as planned by the end of June. That means more social distancing, washing hands often and wearing face masks. It means instituting stringent health and safety measures at businesses and public places so people don’t get the virus.
“My goal is to help the Main Street from a business perspective get reopened as much as possible,” Randall said Tuesday. “And I think a large part of that this year, with people’s fears, is probably going to be trying to do things outdoors.”
Devil in the details
There are many things to consider with this proposal, including parking, missed revenue from parking meters, loading zones, crosswalks, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, public transportation and approval from the DOT.
Nothing has been approved, and Borzilleri’s proposal is being considered a “work in progress” at this point, according to Randall, who likes the idea.
“We’re just beginning the conversations that the village has to have with the state Department of Transportation,” he said Tuesday.
If Borzilleri’s proposal is approved, the closed-off portion of Main Street would not be a contiguous stretch of pedestrian space, according to the mayor. The village still would have to accommodate crosswalks, delivery trucks, etc.
“I think we can create what I would prefer to call islands of areas where they would be blocked off to accomplish what the group is proposing,” Randall said Tuesday. “In the meantime, when the delivery hours are over with, those spaces that are open...would be open for regular parking.”
There are currently 393 parking spaces on Main Street from the municipal lot opposite the post office to Saranac Avenue, according to plans from the Lake Placid reconstruction project. That includes the municipal lot (147), clock lot (25), upper and lower village center lots (108) and on-street parking (113).
The reimagined Main Street proposal would take away most of the 86 lakeside, on-street parking spaces, including the 14 available when loading zones are not active. It would leave 27 non-lakeside, on-street spaces, including 12 in loading zones.
Public parking is also available on Parkside Drive, Saranac Avenue, Mirror Lake Drive (both ends), lower Main Street and the lot beside Stewart’s Shop. Some of those spaces are for permit holders.
Randall said public transportation is a “critical part” of this proposal, and he would try to get the trolley up and running to bring people into the closed-off portion of Main Street.
“Clearly we have to have a way to move people and make it easy for them,” Randall said Tuesday.
Public transportation by the village and Essex and Franklin counties is currently not operational due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Marc Galvin is the secretary of the Lake Placid Business Association. He owns and operates The Bookstore Plus with his wife Sarah, located at 2491 Main St., on the lake side.
Galvin said Tuesday — speaking for himself, not the LPBA — that he’s not opposed to the plan, but he has some questions.
“Who wants to eat their food out in the middle of the street next to traffic? What customer are we trying to entice?” he said. “I’m all about coming up with new ideas and trying to make things cool down here. I don’t think we’ve identified that customer.”
Since the governor’s “New York State on PAUSE” stay-at-home orders were initiated in mid-March, people have been antsy to get out of their homes. Yet with the reopening of the North Country economy, which began Friday, Galvin asserted that it may not be the best time to radically change the Main Street configuration.
“Sarah and I have been busting our humps for the last seven or eight weeks just having ourselves in the store doing curbside pickup, looking for some semblance of normal, and then we’re going to open back up and change the street that went away, and I have to talk to my customers and explain to them, ‘There’s not really the same access anymore.’”
Wayne Johnston is an LPBA board member. He and his wife Cathy own and operate the Ruthie’s Run clothing store at 2415 Main St., on the lake side.
Johnston said Tuesday — also speaking for himself, not the LPBA — that the community should give locals and regional visitors as much access to Main Street as possible, as presumably there will be more access than in a typical summer due to the projected drop in visitation.
“I don’t get it,” Johnston said. “It’s a public street, and it serves many purposes. I’m not opposed to some experimentation with the idea of encouraging some outdoor life on Main Street, but a wholesale, this side of the road no parking, one-way traffic? I think it’s nuts, frankly.”
Johnston said many businesses have deliveries, and parking spaces need to be considered, not just for large shipments but for the customer who is visiting a business for a brief period of time.
“We have people wanting to drop things off, make quick pick-ups,” Johnston said. “I think of places like China City, our neighbor. Most of the people going in there, from my observation, are locals picking up Chinese (food) for dinner. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to do that with this scheme of things.”
Lori Fitzgerald, a board member of the LPBA and director of sales and marketing at the High Peaks Resort hotel on the corner of Saranac Avenue and Main Street, helped Borzilleri survey business owners about the proposal. Borzilleri said more than 60 businesses were asked for feedback, and all but about six were in favor of the idea.
“I see this as a chance to get businesses on their feet,” Fitzgerald said during Monday’s village board meeting, adding that she was volunteering and speaking as a citizen, not on behalf of the LPBA.
The LPBA has not taken a stance on Borzilleri’s proposal. Its executive committee is expected to discuss it this morning, according to LPBA President Tim Robinson, manager at Terry Robards’ Wines & Spirits on Saranac Avenue.
ROOST — which is in charge of marketing Lake Placid, Essex County and other parts of the Adirondack region — has not officially weighed in on the idea, either, even though it has helped survey some of the Main Street business owners. ROOST Chief of Staff Mary Jane Lawrence has been involved with the proposal “to ensure that the opinions of merchants and restaurants are part of the decision process,” ROOST CEO Jim McKenna said in an email. “Our position has been that we would support (it) if the business community is behind it.”