ELLSWORTH — While the year-long pandemic shone a spotlight on sidewalk dining and outdoor meals, in general, creating a traffic-free and green downtown space where people can meet, eat and chill has been discussed by city officials and community groups since well before 2020.
The lower Franklin Street extension off Main Street is the favored spot to close off to traffic to create such a spot. With the historic City Hall looming as its backdrop, the side street served as the venue for Taste of Ellsworth for three years, through 2019.
“We are still in the planning process/phase for the closure of lower Franklin Street,” Economic Development Director Janna Richards said on March 15. “We anticipate it will be closed from Memorial Day until the end of September, but we still need to formalize the plan.”
Richards and City Manager Glenn Moshier attended a March 12 Heart of Ellsworth Zoom at Noon event to join in the discussion of creating a dedicated community space, which is a priority for downtown business owners and features in the recently released Ellsworth Green Plan.
Also present was Anne Ball from the Maine Downtown Center, which Ellsworth joined as a Downtown Affiliate last year. The Maine Downtown Center stresses preservation and walkability as community and economic drivers of downtown areas.
“People really want a community gathering space,” Heart of Ellsworth Executive Director Cara Romano said, pointing to a quick survey of the 20 or so predominantly business-owner participants. “They want to see a private-public partnership happening to make this come to fruition. The business owners were coming at this from a very educated and grounded space of knowing, from their business, what they need to see happen.”
Creating a permanent, traffic-free green space in the downtown would not be a small project. Some proponents envision tearing up the asphalt. There are businesses on the side street, including Elizabeth’s Fine Goods, which faces Main Street but has a Franklin Street entrance, and several attorneys practicing at 3 Franklin St. The eight parking spaces eliminated from lower Franklin Street this summer if the city’s plan moves forward would become a permanent loss if a dedicated, traffic-free community space was eventually approved.
Romano envisions a space similar to what was created for past Taste of Ellsworth events.
“We created a small park inside that space, showcased that it does not need or should be a thruway for traffic, and should be a gathering green space for our community year-round,” she said.
Benches, trees loaned from Hilts Landscaping of Hancock and flowers all helped create a model of what many in the community would like to see.
Romano acknowledged that creating a small, park-like setting is “a lot farther down the road … It’s a real community effort.”