Saturday, May 7, 2022

Word on the Street

It appears that the controversial concrete blocks will be coming back to Warren Street (and maybe some adjourning streets) this summer, but the schedule and details of the return are still to be determined.

At yesterday's meeting of Common Council Tourism & Events Committee, Alex Petraglia of the Hudson Business Coalition (HBCi) outlined a proposed program for Warren Street Shared Usage 2022, developed based on his conversations with business owners. The following is quoted from that proposed program:
  • The program will run from Memorial Day weekend through the beginning of November
  • The concrete blocks and planters will return, for any and all dining and drinking establishments that wish to participate . . .
  • The program is open to any dining/drinking establishments, on or off Warren St
  • Each business can be allocated up to two contiguous non-handicap parking spaces immediately in front of their place of business . . .
  • The setup would be installed by Department of Public Works (DPW) for Memorial Day weekend, and removed in early November . . .
  • We are working to secure a grant to help cover the hard costs for aesthetic and safety improvements to the blocks, fixing the planters and stocking them with plants, covering the fees that would otherwise be incurred to the businesses in lieu of lost parking revenue, and ideally some money for marketing the program
  • With that said, we may ask businesses to pay a fee to help offset the costs associated with the program, again, depending upon how much we raise from grants
  • All businesses are required to manage the upkeep of their areas for appearances, sanitation, etc.--water plants, remove garbage and debris, remove impediments in and around, etc. 
Petraglia reported that 15 businesses have already confirmed their interest in participating, and there were 12 more that were likely to participate. Petraglia stressed that there was no intention to close Warren Street, just to use the parking spaces for outdoor dining.

Photo: JD Urban | HBCi
In the discussion that followed, Councilmember Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) noted that the outdoor dining spaces in the street were not universally accessible and insisted that every area have accessibility and there be no obstructions on the sidewalks. He also took issue with the proposed duration of the program, expressing the opinion that continuing until the beginning of November was too long. Councilmember Vicky Daskaloudi (Fifth Ward) concurred, saying it was inconvenient for Warren Street residents for parking spaces to be unavailable and continuing until early November "doesn't give enough time for change of season." The end of September was suggested as a preferable conclusion of the program. A logical time for ending the program would seem to be after Columbus Day, a.k.a. Indigenous Peoples Day, in early October, but no one suggested it. 

Councilmember Ryan Wallace (Third Ward), who chairs the committee, noted that wheelchair ramps can be purchased and suggested that businesses participating in the program be required to provide one for access from sidewalk to street level. He also expressed the opinion that one parking space should be sufficient for most businesses and no businesses that have the capability for outdoor dining be allowed to participate in the program. He said he thought businesses "can very easily pay the full value of the parking for the spot." The forgone parking revenue has been calculated to be $42 a week for each parking space. Councilmember Art Frick (First Ward) agreed that restaurants should pay for the lost revenue. Petraglia had argued that the City forgo the parking revenue to support its local businesses, which are struggling with inflated costs, particularly since the lost revenue will be offset by increased sales tax revenue. 

After this discussion had gone on for a while, Council president Tom DePietro informed the councilmembers that the Council has no say in Warren Street Shared Usage 2022 and the only authority is the mayor's office. During the discussion, Mayor Kamal Johnson shared his opinion that the proposed season was too long, declared, "I'm all for whatever iteration," but stressed, "The huge issue has been enforcement." He spoke of noise complaints from residents and neighboring restaurants and told the committee, "I was getting complaints at one, two in the morning."

Exactly how this all will resolve itself is not yet clear. Wallace suggested the Council might make a recommendation to the mayor. That recommendation presumably would be ready by the Council's informal meeting on Monday, May 9. After the meeting, Petraglia posted an update on the HBCi website. That update can be found here.


  1. I’d first like to commend Alex Petraglia and HBC for taking on this project. Last year’s Open Streets had a very poorly managed design and rollout thanks to the Tourism Board, creating a cascade of issues for businesses, residents, and customers. Alex will no doubt provide a much-needed dose of professionalism and core competence; I’m confident the experience will be a more positive one this year.

    The observation that each outdoor dining space needs to be ADA accessible, while certainly admirable, doesn’t seem realistic or necessary. While it would be ideal if restaurants could provide accessibility for outdoor dining, space is very limited and a ramp and turnaround space for a wheelchair seems like it might take up too much space and allow too few tables to make an outdoor dining experience profitable for restaurants. If the indoor dining spaces are ADA accessible, is that considered a reasonable accommodation under the law? Of course restaurants should, if possible, make accommodation for the disabled, but the particulars might best be left to business owners to decide.

    There is a widespread misconception that restaurants and bars are doing just fine after Covid, when in fact increased costs throughout the food supply chain, staffing, and utilities are often cutting much deeper than the razor thin margins restaurants enjoy (this after two years of a pandemic when aid packages like PPP often overlooked small F&B establishments), and there is significant investment in seasonal outdoor dining. I do hope the mayor and council members take these challenges into consideration when deciding on policy for the upcoming season.

  2. "the huge issue is enforcement," the Mayor barks. Well, duh, the issue of a lack of code enforcement is pervasive throughout the city, why would it be any less so for this program? We paid Gary Purnhagen to oversee this program last year -- will someone be replacing him, and will our poor Mayor still be woken from his slumber with oodles of complaints?

    1. Purnhagen isn't to blame to for the bad rollout last year, and he did an admirable job making lemonade out of the mess Kate Treacy and the Tourism Board dumped on him. If the Board had been more concerned about small businesses and sales tax revenue, they might not have wasted so much of the Tourism Fund on pianos for themselves, poorly-constructed side stages that were only used a handful of times, and walk-in coolers for non-profits. (Don't even get me started on the accounting mess from Waterfront Wednesdays. Actually, please do.)