Art after dark street closure

An experiment in street closures — Plaza Street between Healdsburg Avenue and Center and half way up Plaza past Center will be closed until Labor Day as a trial run for extended outdoor dining, retail and pedestrian use. Plaza Street near The Healdsburg Center for the Arts was typically closed during summer evenings for Art After Dark, seen in this photo from 2018.

In a unanimous decision during its July 27 meeting the Healdsburg City Council voted to approve the full closure of Plaza Street from Healdsburg Avenue to Center Street and from Center to half way up Plaza Street. The closure will be a trial run until Labor Day, and was approved to allow for more pedestrian use, outdoor dining and retail.

Since the stretch of Plaza will be closed to vehicular access, the Tuesday farmers market will move over to Matheson Street to allow for street access and to better accommodate vendors.

“If we do a full street closure I would say we should move over to Matheson and we’re fine with that. I’ve looked at Matheson, I’ve looked at how it would lay out and it would be set up exactly the same as our set up on Plaza,” said market manager, Janet Ciel. Ciel said if they were to remain on Center Street while Plaza Street is closed it would make it difficult for the vendors who set up on the Plaza and drive in on Plaza Street.

The Plaza Street closure was one of several options suggested by the restaurant managers of Duke’s and The Brass Rabbit. Other options included making Plaza Street one-way between Healdsburg Avenue and Center Street, or closing Plaza between Healdsburg Avenue and Center.

When the city started exploring the idea of a street closure they first considered some form of closure on Center Street, however, the proposal was met with concern from retailers who were concerned that such a closure would hinder curbside pickup, customer traffic and deliveries.

Since the Plaza idea was suggested, the city — over the last two months — has held 11 Zoom meetings to garner feedback from the business community. They also held one in-person meeting on June 30 with Center and Plaza Street business owners and conducted two small surveys, one for businesses and one for community members.

The city also received feedback from most of the Plaza Street businesses: One-O-One; Bradford Brenner Art Gallery; Outlander; Elements on the Plaza Day Spa; Brass Rabbi; Duke’; Seasons of the Vineyards Wine Shop; Arena Gallery; Rainsong Shoes; Stafford Gallery; JCB Tasting Room, El Farolito; Idlewild and The Healdsburg Center for the Arts.

Of the 13 businesses that offered up feedback, six were supportive of the idea. Two said they would be willing to try it out for a short time. Two were opposed and a few were uncertain.

Following the Monday city council meeting, The Healdsburg Center for the Arts expressed excitement toward the idea and are looking forward to creatively making use of the space.

“We are happy to share that city council approved the closure of Plaza Street from Healdsburg Avenue to Center and then from Center to half way up Plaza,” the center wrote on Facebook. “Look for HCA to make use of that space as creatively as possible.”

Residents who spoke during public comment also expressed excitement about the idea.

“It’s really exciting to see these plans. I would personally really like to see an experiment with a full street closure and it’s great that so many merchants on the street want to give it a shot,” said Anne Arquit Niederberger.

Resident Tim Unger echoed her thoughts and said a full closure will give the city the opportunity to examine the viability of such a street closure. 

Councilmembers also liked the idea for the full closure, however, they made a few suggestions such as adding parking signage, additional bike parking and touchless hand sanitizer stations at each signalized street crossing.

“Safety is paramount,” said councilmember David Hagele. “I think for this to work, our residents and visitors need to feel safe and I think that is one small thing we could do is to have a lot more hand sanitizer stations downtown.”

Interim City Manager Dave Kiff said he thinks implementing that sort of measure would be “Very doable” and that the city budget could accommodate that request.

In terms of budgeting for this project, the city will use the small amount of remaining funds in the SBS (small business) Loan Program, up to $30,000, to purchase or rent additional water filled barriers, signs, tables and chairs and Porta-Johns for the trial run.

Councilmember Joe Naujokas asked if tables will be frequently sanitized and if anything will be done to address the concerns of businesses who weren’t as supportive of a street closure.

Kiff said tables will be sanitized as much as possible and that the city could perhaps work with the chamber of commerce to set up some sort of shopping incentive or parking spots to help encourage folks to shop along Plaza Street.

“Looking at the choices here I think there is a lot more support from businesses and I think this has been laid out really well and the time frame is compact enough that I think it could have a really positive impact,” Vice Mayor Shaun McCaffery said of the street closure.

Mayor Evelyn Mitchell concurred.

“I think the full closure makes a lot of sense. I think it will make it really a good opportunity for everybody to enjoy the Plaza, the extended Plaza … and thank you to the farmers market for being willing to move over to Matheson, because I think that just sort of expands the whole thing to restaurants, retail and the market,” Mitchell said. 

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