WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington City Council voted unanimously to extend the ’Downtown Alive’ program, hoping to further assist downtown businesses ailing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The program was set to expire on Labor Day, but will now continue through at least Oct. 18.
Additionally, the extension expands the program slightly — adding additional options for downtown restaurants and merchants to make use of outdoor space.
Along with the weekly closures of Front, Dock and Princess streets, businesses can apply for a “parklet” on the sidewalk and parking spaces, allowing them to spread out seven days a week, but keep traffic flowing.
The extension also opens up the ability for retailers to further utilize outdoor space.
City staff said the program has been deemed a “success” by Wilmington Downtown, Inc. and the Downtown Business Alliance, as well as those businesses that have participated.
Of the businesses downtown that they’ve heard from, staff said only one retailer objected to extending the program.
Council also granted the city manager the ability to extend the program through Nov. 22 if additional money is found.
The additional six weeks will cost $73,737, with an additional $5,013 on standby if it is extended further.
Some of the cost will be covered by $40,000 that would have been spent on the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display that was canceled because of the pandemic. The remainder is funded by contributions from the businesses that participate.
Council member Kevin Spears said he thinks this was a good effort, but he wants to see more done for businesses in the rest of the city.
“What are we planning on doing for them in the future, if anything? I think that’s a big concern,” he said.
Staff said businesses outside the historic city center do have options when it comes to expanding into parking lots or other outdoor space through temporary permits.
Saffo agreed this was a valuable stopgap to respond to the pandemic, but he too thinks there will need to be additional action in the future to serve businesses that aren’t seeing a benefit from the program.
“As this virus continues, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to abate until we find some sort of vaccine and people feel safe again, I think we’re going to need an evaluation of this process,” Saffo said. “I think it’s done its job at getting people back downtown, but there are challenges.”
He said there are also concerns that this program could lead to the closure of Front Street all together, which he and others are very much against.
Council also approved appropriations of pandemic relief funds that came through New Hanover County, as well as purchases by the Wilmington Police Department made possible by pandemic money through the department of justice.