Organizer walks out of Open
Streets discussion with Council
Wednesday, May 08, 2013 7:29 AM
The organizer of two Decorah Open Streets events, who is planning a third, walked out of a discussion of his street closure request during Monday night's Decorah City Council meeting.
On a 5-1 vote, the Council voted down the request, but left the door open to considering a modified closure.
Last month, event organizer David Paquette asked the Council to consider closing Water Street from Mechanic Street to Winnebago Street for an Open Streets event planned for Sunday, June 9, from noon-4 p.m. The closure would last from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. that day. The Council tabled a decision and asked Paquette to talk to all the business owners who would be affected and come back to the Council.
Two Open Streets events were held last year in Decorah. The first encompassed a large downtown area, and the second was held in September on Claiborne Drive. The car-free, outdoor celebrations are geared around activities such as dancing, biking, jogging and games.
Paquette said he'd received several requests to return the event to Water Street, but in a smaller area than the first Open Streets. Monday night, Paquette reported he and other volunteers had talked to all the businesses within the requested street closure.
"They all said they approved. This is an event we're hoping builds community and hope plays a role in instilling the values of the Blue Zones (wellness initiative) project," he said.
Andy Bonnet, owner of Rubaiyat Restaurant, 117 W. Water St., said the first Open Streets had been a "disaster" for his business and urged the Council not to approve the street closure. He said he was told parking would be available for staff and customers in the Fareway parking lot and it wasn't.
"We showed a significant loss of revenue. Typically, Sunday is a very busy day - we serve 200 to 250 people. That day we had less than 150 people," Bonnet said.
Water Street was closed in front of his business for the first Open Streets, but that block was not included in the closure request for the event proposed for next month. But Bonnet said the closure from Mechanic Street to Winnebago would create a traffic "log jam" of people trying to get to Winnebago Street.
"I don't feel it's necessary to close the street," he said.
The second Open Streets last fall was better organized, according to Bonnet, and utilized the parking area below the Oneota Food Coop where the Farmers' Market is held Saturdays and Wednesdays.
Paquette apologized for the loss of business Rubaiyat experienced during the first Open Streets.
"We're trying to create an event that helps businesses downtown. We're wiling to work with you. The event as it stands is a nice compromise. I'd certainly like to continue the conversation," Paquette said.
Council member Gary Rustad asked why Open Streets couldn't remain at the Claiborne Drive location where it was held last fall.
Paquette responded that location was due to other events going on in the city that day, including the grand opening of the Trout Run Trail.
"We've had multiple requests to move it back to Water Street," he said.
Rustad said the Open Streets activities could be held within one of several large parking lots not in use on Sunday.
"It's intended to be an event that helps with the vitality downtown. Communities are doing it all over the world," Paquette responded.
While he said he is in favor of Open Streets, Rustad said it has to "be workable" for everybody.
"Can we make this work without closing Water Street?" he asked.
Council member Randy Schissel said he's been downtown on recent Sundays and said the Water Street parking spaces are 80 percent full from Mechanic Street to State Street. Schissel asked Paquette if he had completed a special events application the city requires.
Paquette said it was "in process" and that he was waiting for Council approval before purchasing insurance.
Council member Carolyn Corbin said she considered Monday's discussion "progress." She said Paquette and his volunteers bring vitality to the downtown and promote a healthy community.
"I appreciate what you're doing, but I'm not going to vote for it tonight. I want to make sure it works for an anchor restaurant downtown," she said.
Council member Rachel Vagts said events that encourage family and friends to gather together outside should be encouraged.
"I'd like to see your business working with this event instead of against it ... I wish you'd move forward together rather than butting heads," Vagts said to Bonnet.
Council member Paul Wanless said he was bothered that no one had contacted him about the event even though he owns a business in the proposed closure area of Water Street. He said he would prefer the street closing on Water Street be limited to Mechanic to Court Street.
Schissel said the Claiborne Drive/Farmers' Market area is the best location for Open Streets.
"It's a community events area. The Market is there on Saturdays ... leave the barricades up," he said.
"It's a great location and it's downtown," Rustad added.
Discouraged by the comments, Paquette left the meeting before the end of the discussion.
Schissel made a motion to deny the street closure request. Vagts was the only Council member voting against the motion.
Wanless said he'd be comfortable with a Mechanic to Court Street closure, since its allows for two-way traffic on Water Street.
"We do close Water Street for other events that are a little more traditional ... this will never become traditional unless it gets some kind of chance," he said.
Rustad said Paquette could have amended his request if he had stayed for the end of the discussion.
"It would have been nice if he stuck around," Rustad said.
"Sometimes we're frustrating," Wanless said, adding there's nothing stopping Paquette from revising his request at the Council's May 20 meeting.
City Manager Chad Bird said he would relay the Council's comments to Paquette.
Harlan Satrom, who was involved in the first Open Streets event, said Bonnet would not have a problem with the two-block closure Wanless was suggesting. He also said Open Streets has $1,600 remaining in its budget that could be spent. The Blue Zones initiative, which does not have a budget, would like to "attach" to the planned Open Streets, Satrom said.