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City researches how to help downtown

LOCK HAVEN — The months’ long closure of businesses in the downtown has put a strain on many local stores and restaurants along East Main Street.

Even with Gov. Tom Wolf allowing certain businesses to reopen in the “yellow phase” of his reopening plan, many are still struggling. City staff in Lock Haven are working on ways to help bring life back into the area.

“City staff has been working for the last couple of weeks forging a plan to present to city council on how the city can take steps to support downtown restaurants and retail stores,” City Manager Gregory Wilson said.

The plans being discussed would also include events and concerts but not until the county enters the “green phase” of Wolf’s plan.

One of the current proposals that will go before council on June 1 is converting the East Main Street parking lot into outdoor seating.

Wilson said the seating could help restaurants which will have limited capacity indoors in the green phase.

In the green phase, 25 people will be allowed in a restaurant space with social distancing measures in place, according to Wolf’s plan.

“Adding additional outdoor seating would act as overflow allowing local restaurants through the week who meet capacity to still offer “to-go” to customers and direct them to the outdoor dining park,” Wilson said.

The temporary park would encompass the entire parking lot and include temporary raised flower beds to provide green space and create social distancing barriers, he continued.

City staff are also in the refining phase of a plan to possibly close East Main Street from North Jay to Vesper as well as Grove Street from Main to Water street on Fridays and Saturday.

“The plan includes space for live music during each evening, which is permitted in the green phase, provided that the audience of the actual event does not exceed four groups of 25 people,” Wilson said.

“We are working to manage the layout of East Main Street to accommodate this while also enabling downtown restaurants and merchants outdoor space used for sidewalks and parking to be dedicated to seating,” he continued.

Wilson said live music would be an added benefit to customers as they shop throughout downtown.

“Those customers would also have the added benefit of live music in the air if we can work together as a community to ensure safe and healthy habits to further reduce the infection rate of COVID-19,” he said, noting that Lock Haven holds a 67 percent infection rate in the last two weeks.

To close East Main Street, city council will have to make a formal request to PennDOT for the closure.

“This will enable the city to engage in a discussion with PennDOT on how we can successfully work together for the betterment of our local merchants during the green phase,” Wilson said.

Currently to help city restaurants, police Chief Kristin Smith is drafting an order which will institute temporary parking restrictions in the downtown.

“Each restaurant in a metered parking area will be provided two on-street metered parking spaces as near to their front door as possible which will be signed for curbside pickup only for their customers,” Wilson said.

The signs will be independently numbered with the phone number of the restaurant included.

Kasey Campbell, director of community life, and Abbey Roberts, city planner, are in the process of ordering the signs to be installed, Wilson said.

“Any business currently only operating in curbside pickup besides a restaurant may apply for a similar sign to be installed in front of their store by contacting (me) at gwilson@lockhavenpa.gov,” Wilson said.

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